Authors: J. D. Robb
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Mystery & Detective, #Women Sleuths, #Crime, #Crime & mystery, #Thrillers & Mystery
Eve listened to the click of those heels. When they’d receded, she leaned back in her chair, closed her eyes as her stomach churned.
Because no, neither she nor Percell was stupid.
FATIGUE DRAGGED AT HER WHEN SHE TURNED through the gates. Out of the unrelenting noise, the crowds, the quick temper, and vicious pace of the city, she thought, and into Roarke’s world.
Exclusive, private, perfect. The long sweeping drive, which curved through the snow-covered grounds where no tromping feet, no impatient traffic had marred that pristine white carpet, led the way to the big stone house with its many windows.
They gleamed with light, warm and gold.
She’d grown used to it, she thought, to sliding through those iron gates, to seeing the stunning home spread and jut with its towers and turrets, like a fantasy in the dark.
Room after room ranged behind that glass and stone, some practical, some elegant, some fun. All beautiful, all reflecting his vision. What he’d needed to build, to have, to hold.
Not just for the status, the elegance, the privilege—though with Roarke those would play a part—but because he’d needed, very much needed, to make a home.
What had she added to that? she wondered. Some clutter, an orphaned cat, an office that was undoubtedly plain and lacking in style by his standards.
Hell, by most anyone’s.
But she’d learned to fit there, had made a home there with him. Hadn’t she? Despite the odds, they had a life there that mattered to both of them.
She wouldn’t let some ghost from the past put a blight on that.
She left the car in front, climbed the steps to the grand front doors. Roarke may have built it, but this was her territory now, too, her turf. No one was going to invade it without getting bloody.
She walked in, and Summerset slid out into the foyer, the cat a fat shadow at his heels.
“Let me just say kiss my ass and avoid the rest of the conversation,” she began. “I’ve got work.”
“He isn’t home yet.”
Her stomach squeezed, just a little as she shrugged out of her coat. “Thanks for the report.”
“He had to reschedule some meetings in order to take a personal lunch.”
Eve tossed her coat over the newel post and whirled. At least now she had a handy target for the rage that churned with the sickness in her belly. “Couldn’t wait to rub my face in that one. I bet you’re just dancing a jig that Maggie’s in town. Well, you can—”
“On the contrary,” he interrupted with absolute calm. “I couldn’t be less pleased. I’d like a moment of your time.”
His jaw tightened, and she saw she’d been wrong. There were ripples under the calm.
“I dislike discussing Roarke this way, and you’re only making it more difficult. However, my concerns leave me, I feel, little choice in the matter.”
Her mouth was dry now. “What kind of concerns?”
“Come into the parlor for a moment. There’s a fire.”
“Fine, fine.” She stalked in. The fire simmered, red and gold. All the rich fabrics gleamed while the antique wood, so lovingly tended, glowed. And standing in the room, she felt chilled to the bone.
“Will you sit?”
She only shook her head, walked to the window to stare out. “What do you need to say to me?”
“I’ll pour you some wine.”
“No.” She couldn’t handle wine with her head beginning to throb. “Just spill it.”
“She’s a dangerous woman, Lieutenant.”
“In what way?”
“She manipulates, she maneuvers. She enjoys the adventure of conflict. And she has power, as truly beautiful women usually do. In her case, it was well honed even a dozen years ago, and I don’t imagine it’s lost its edge.”
“No,” Eve murmured. “She’s got a punch.”
“And added to it, she has a strong intellect.”
“How long were they together?” When he said nothing, she looked back at him. “Don’t tap dance around this. How long?”
“A number of months. Nearly a year.”
She had to turn back to the window because there was a pain now, just under her heart. “Long time. Why did it end?”
“They had planned a job—weeks of planning.” She may not have wanted wine, but he did. He wanted something to get him through this. “The mark was a wealthy man with a superb collection of art.”
Summerset moved to a painted cabinet and, taking a decanter, poured himself a short whiskey. “Magdelana’s part was to intrigue him, to develop a relationship. He was much older than she, and had a penchant for young, vibrant women. She would access information from the inside, the security, the routines, the placement of the artwork. They decided on a pair of Renoirs. Just the two. Roarke was, even then, not the sort to dip too deeply into one well. The day they were to complete the job—with her and the mark on his yacht—she eloped with the mark.”
“Bird in the hand.”
“Precisely. He had to scrap the job, of course, not being sure the information he had was valid, or that he wasn’t being set up. It cost him quite a bit, on several levels.”
“But he didn’t go after her, make her pay?” She turned back again. “He didn’t do that because he was more hurt than he was angry. Did he love her?”
“He was infatuated.”
Something twisted in her. “Worse. That’s worse.”
“Agreed.” He sipped. “He tolerated a great deal from her during the time they were together. She enjoyed risks, both personal and professional. You’ve seen her, she has a light. He was attracted to it.”
“She’s smart,” Eve managed. “Educated and smart. I did a run on her.”
“Naturally. Yes, she was a very intelligent young woman.”
“He’d admire that. He’d like that, even over the physical, that would count.”
He hesitated a moment. Summerset had seen her take a hit, on full, right in this very room. But the words he had to say would do more damage. “She knew art and music, and literature. He’d always been thirsty to know, to experience the things that had been denied to him as a young boy. She had a head for figures, and an appetite for, well, glamour, you could say.”
“And she liked to steal. That would have appealed to him.”
“She enjoyed taking. If he bought her a gift, she’d bubble over it for a time, but much preferred if he’d lifted it. And always, she wanted more, and got more without directly asking. She has a way. She’ll want more now.”
“She came by my office before I left.”
“Ah.” He looked down into his glass again, drank more. “She would, sprinkle a few dark seeds under the guise of smoothing the water.”
“Something like that. She wanted to twist me up, and I knew it. But she got the dig in, she got it done. She said he’d agreed to work with her on some business stuff. If she talked him into doing another job, or even just setting up the groundwork for her—Christ.”
“You can’t allow it.”
“I don’tallow Roarke. No one does.”
“You have influence, use it. She’s a blind spot for him, and always was.”
“All I can do is ask him straight out. I can’t fight with innuendoes and wiles.” The headache was grinding in her skull, and pain was twisting her gut. “The first are insulting to both parties, and I don’t have any of the second. Not on her level, that’s for fucking sure. In the end, it’s his choice. It always was. I’ve got work.”
She started out, stepped, and made herself turn around, meet Summerset’s eyes. “She’s a manipulator. I get that. She’s also beautiful, polished, sophisticated, smart. Smart enough, I’d bet your skinny ass, to settle happily with what Roarke’s got at his fingertips now. Basically, she’s just the type I’d think you’d do a happy dance if he flipped me for.”
She had to take a breath so her voice would stay steady. “She wouldn’t track blood into the house, she’d know just what dress to wear to the next dinner party. And she wouldn’t forget there
a goddamn dinner party because she was standing over a dead body. So, why tell me all this?”
“She would be a sparkling accent on his arm. She speaks flawless French and Italian, and has a limitless supply of charm when she wishes to dispense it. And she’ll use him. She’ll take, take more. If it was necessary, or if she simply had the whim, she’d toss him to the wolves to see who’d win.”
He finished the whiskey. “You, Lieutenant, are often crude, you are certainly rude, and have very little sense of how to be the wife—in public—of a man in Roarke’s position. And you would do anything, no matter what the personal risk, to keep him from harm. She will never love him. You will never do anything but.”
No, she thought as she walked away, she’d never do anything but. And wasn’t it strange she’d forgotten just how much fear and misery love could carry with it?
She’d never felt any of this before she’d met him. Never felt this twisting, this aching, the shaky fear of losing.
And never felt the thrill or the comfort, the stunning happiness that laid so thickly over everything else.
She went straight to her office, programmed a full pot of coffee. Before Roarke, she’d often—most often—bury herself in work. No reason she couldn’t do the same now.
More, she had a duty to honor.
A man was dead. A man, by all current evidence, who’d been a nice guy, an ordinary sort of guy who had actually had something to give to society.
She had no evidence, no reason to believe he’d hurt anyone, had wished harm on anyone. Hadn’t performed salacious acts, used or trafficked in illegal substances.
Hadn’t stolen anything, extorted anyone. Hadn’t cheated on his wife.
Having lunch wasn’t cheating, she thought as she carted her coffee to her desk. Banging another woman like a steel drum a dozen years before marriage wasn’t cheating.
Roarke wouldn’t cheat on her. She could rest easy on that point.
But would he want to? That was the sticker.
And that had nothing to do with Craig Foster.
She sat, braced her elbows on the table, and rested her head in her hands. She just had to clear her mind, that was all. Clear it out. Should probably take a blocker for the goddamn stupid headache pounding inside her skull.
Annoyed, she yanked open the top drawer, knowing Roarke had left a case in there with the little blue pills inside. She hated taking pills, but she’d never be able to think unless she popped one.
She swallowed the blocker, chased it with coffee as Galahad jogged in to get a running start for the leap to her desk. He plopped his ass down and stared at her.
“I’ve got to work.” But it was an odd comfort to run her hand over his head and have him stretch under the stroke. “I’ve got to be able to work or I’ll go crazy.”
Shifting, she inserted the data discs she wanted to run first.
“Computer, cross-reference both employee and client list, disc A with student guardians, administration, faculty, and support staff lists, disc B. Report any matches.”
“Secondary task, standard data run on all names on disc C, include criminal, financial, employment, marital, education.”
Maybe something would pop on one of the parents or child care providers who’d been in the building that morning.
“Subsequent task, display data on faculty, administration, and support staff of Sarah Child Academy, in alpha order, on wall screen one.”
Acknowledged. Data displayed on wall screen one…Primary task complete. No matches…
“Yeah, that would’ve been too easy. Using the same lists, cross-reference search for family relations, former spouses or cohabs.”
Acknowledged. Working…Secondary task is now complete. Choice of display?
“Display on comp screen.” Sitting back with her coffee, she studied the data.
There was nothing hot. A couple of hand slaps here and there—the ever-popular illegals possession for personal use, a four-year-old shoplifting charge. No violent crimes, no cage time for any.
Before she began on the data on her wall screen, she closed her eyes and let her mind wind back through what she knew, what she wanted to know.
Poison in the hot chocolate. Thermos unattended and accessible at several points during the morning. Habitual.
She sat up, eyes narrowed, then tried another angle. She contacted Lissette Foster. “Lieutenant Dallas,” she said. “I’m sorry to disturb you. I have a couple of questions. You made the hot chocolate yourself, every morning.”
“Yes, I told you. I made it for him.”
“You ever drink it?”
“No. Too many calories,” she said wearily. “I used some real chocolate along with the soy milk and the powdered mix. He didn’t know.”
“Chocolate’s so expensive. He didn’t know I bought it, added it in like my mother always did. He liked it so much, said no one made it like I did. It was the half ounce of real chocolate I mixed in every morning.”
“Anyone else know about that addition?”
“My mother. She taught me how to make it. I mentioned it at work, I’m sure. Sort of bragging about it. I think I might have told Mirri. It was just a little secret from Craig. He wouldn’t have wanted me to spend the money on him.”
“I noticed the mix in your kitchen, and the stash of liquid chocolate inside a box of Vital Fem.”
Now Lissette smiled, just a little. “He’d never poke around in my vitamins, so I kept the chocolate there.”
“We sent the mix and the liquid to the lab. Anyone else know where you kept them?”
“The mix, maybe. Not the chocolate. You think…”
“The lab will determine if any of the ingredients were tampered with. Was anyone in your apartment the weekend before your husband’s death?”
“No.” She rubbed her eyes wearily. “I don’t think so. I was out for a while on Saturday, shopping. But Craig was home. He didn’t mention it.”
“Does anyone have a key, a spare? Your code.”
“Mirri does, for emergencies. But—”
“Okay. Your building doesn’t have security cameras or a doorman.”
“We couldn’t afford one that ran to those. It’s a nice neighborhood. We never had any trouble.”
“All right, Mrs. Foster. I appreciate the time.”
So here’s a what-if, Eve mused. What if person or persons unknown accessed the Foster apartment, knowing the habits. Poisoned the powder. Maybe Craig had a visitor he hadn’t told his wife about.
Or…Maybe it didn’t have to be the day before, she thought. Maybe he’d lucked out a few times, hadn’t gotten any of—or not enough of the poison.