Read Innocent in Death Online

Authors: J. D. Robb

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Mystery & Detective, #Women Sleuths, #Crime, #Crime & mystery, #Thrillers & Mystery

Innocent in Death (5 page)

BOOK: Innocent in Death
9.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

She broke one of her own rules, hit the sirens, and used the cop for personal gain.

After barely avoiding clipping bumpers with a Rapid Cab, she went vertical, then hung a screaming right on Fiftieth, zigging, zagging her way over to Third before heading uptown again.

She should’ve told Peabody to tell Roarke to have everyone order without her. Not to wait. Why hadn’t she thought of that? Now they’d probably be sitting there, starving, while she killed herself and many innocent bystanders trying to get to a restaurant where she wouldn’t even be able to read the damn menu.

“Guidance System on!” she ordered. “Where the hell is this place. Restaurant, New York City, Le Printemps.”

One moment, please, while your request is programmed. Le Printemps is located at 212 East Ninety-third, between Second and Third Avenues. Would you care to make a reservation?

“I’ve got a damn reservation. Guidance off.”

Even with the kamikaze driving tactics, she was thirty minutes late. And by the time she managed to double park, which would bring the wrath of thousands and possibly cause an intercity riot, she was later still.

She flipped on her On Duty light, then sprinted the last half-block.

She paused outside to scoop her fingers through her hair a couple of times, then looked down at her dark brown trousers. She saw no overt signs of blood or other bodily fluid staining them or the navy V-neck, and considered the lack a big plus in her favor.

Horns were already blasting in protest of her parking arrangement as she stepped out of the blowing snow, and into the fragrant and muted music of five-star French.

The maître d’ swooped down on her like a vulture on roadkill. “Mademoiselle. I regret, we cannot seat walk-ins.”

“How do you seat anyone if they don’t walk in?” She shrugged out of her coat. Peabody had the megachic right, Eve noted. Every woman in the place sparkled and gleamed. “Check the coat, Pierre. And it’s your ass if it’s not here when I leave.”

“Mademoiselle, I must ask you to leave quietly.”

“I’ll be sure to do that, after I eat.” She smoothed down the brown jacket, to be sure her weapon was concealed. Though she was tempted to flash it, just to watch the tight-assed maître d’ crack his head on the floor as he passed out.

“Now we can go a round right here,” she suggested, “and give your diners a show along with dinner, or you can tell me where my party is. Reservation Roarke.”

He lost color, shade by shade, until he’d gone from ruddy to pasty. Apparently the name of Roarke carried as much power and threat as a police issue. “I beg your pardon, Madame Roarke.”

“Dallas, Lieutenant. Where’s the table?”

“If you would please follow me.”

“My coat. I like that coat.”

“Of course. It’s a beautiful garment.” He snapped his fingers. “See to Madame…to the lieutenant’s coat. If you will? Your party is already seated. It would be my pleasure to bring you a cocktail.”

“Whatever they’ve got’s fine.” She scanned the room with all its gilt and glory, then followed the chastened maître d’.

He saw her coming. Knowing she’d be late, he’d chosen the table with that in mind. He loved watching her walk into a room, carelessly long strides, those cop’s eyes seeing every detail.

And in the simple jacket and pants she, in his eyes, outshone every woman in the room. When their eyes met, he got to his feet.

“Good evening, Lieutenant.”

“Sorry I’m late.”

“Champagne for my wife,” he said without taking his eyes off her. He drew her chair back himself. “Let me introduce you to Natalie and Sam Derrick.”

“So this is Eve! I’m just thrilled to meet you.” Natalie flashed a mile-wide grin, even as her gaze tracked over Eve’s clothes.

“Glad you could join us.” Sam held out a hand the size of a rump roast, pumped Eve’s twice. “Roarke’s told us it’s hard for you to get away from work.”

“I just can’t think how you investigate
murders
.”

Eve glanced back at Natalie. “First I need a body.” She felt Roarke’s hand pat her thigh twice. “It’s a lot of details,” she continued. “And not nearly as interesting as it comes across in a vid or on screen.”

“I’m sure that’s not true. But I don’t suppose we want to talk of unpleasant things.” Natalie beamed again. “Sam was just about to tell the story of how he caught the biggest bass in Jasper County.”

“Wow.” It was all Eve could think to say, and she was grateful for the glass of champagne now in her hand. And the fact that Roarke had given her free one a squeeze under the table.

Just look at him, she thought, sitting there as though he couldn’t be more interested or enthralled to hear about some stupid fish. And of course, he’d know that every eye in the place would be turned on him at some point during the evening.

She couldn’t blame them. He sat, at ease, the half-smile on his gorgeous face, the light of interest in those laser-blue eyes. Candle-and lamplight gleamed in his hair, that thick mane of black.

When his lips curved more fully, her heart actually bumped her ribs. He could still do that to her, chase her heart to a gallop, stop her breath, melt her bones. And do all of that just with a look.

At some point she was given a menu, and on a quick scan saw that it was, indeed, the sort of fare that caused mild fear in her rather than hunger.

Sam and Natalie weren’t as terminally boring as she’d imagined they would be. Though there was a lot of talk about the sort of outdoorsy activities that caused more discomfort in her than fancy French food.

Hunting, fishing, hiking, riding in boats on rivers, sleeping in tents.

Maybe it was a kind of cult Roarke wanted to infiltrate.

But there was some humor in them, and an obvious enjoyment of the moment.

“This is just wonderful. Sam, this lobster puts your big bass to shame. You have to have a taste. We don’t spruce up very often,” she continued as she held her fork up for her husband. “We’re country people, and that’s how we like it. But it sure is fun to do the big city in a big way. I guess you’re used to it,” she said to Eve.

“I don’t spruce up very often either. Obviously.”

This time when Natalie smiled, there was more warmth to it. “Honey, if I looked like you in pants and a sweater, I wouldn’t wear anything else. Next time, you’ll have to come out and see us, and we’ll throw you a real Montana feed. Roarke, you’re just going to have to bring Eve out to see us.”

“I’ll have to do that.” He lifted his glass, smiled over the rim at Eve. And when someone said his name, and he glanced toward them, Eve saw something come into his eyes, just a flash of it. A something she’d only seen when he looked at her.

It was gone, shuttered down into polite pleasure. But it had been there. Very slowly, Eve tracked her gaze over, and saw her.

She was stunning, in a bold red dress that managed to be both elegant and sexy. Long legs ended in the glitter of paper-thin silver heels. Her hair was a long, waving stream of delicate blond, clipped at the sides with something small and sparkling. Her eyes were brilliantly green, full of life and excitement that translated to sexual power. Her lips were full, very red and lush against luminous skin.

“Roarke.”

She said it again in a kind of throaty purr that brought up the hackles on Eve’s back. And she glided as such women do, to the table, holding out her hands for his.

“‘Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world,’” she murmured as he rose, and lifted her face for a kiss.

“Magdelana,” he said with the Irish in his voice cruising through the name, and he brushed her lips very lightly with his. “What a surprise.”

“I can’t believe it’s you!” Magdelana laid her hands on his cheeks, stroked. “And as handsome as ever. More. The years agreed with you, lover.”

“And with you. Eve, this is an old friend of mine, Magdelana Percell. Magdelana, my wife, Eve Dallas, and our friends, Sam and Natalie Derrick.”

“Wife? Oh, of course, of course. I heard. One does. I’m delighted to meet you. And you,” she said to the Derricks. “You’ll have to excuse me for breaking into your meal. All I saw was Roarke.” She smiled down at Eve, that glitter in her eyes. “You understand.”

“Oh, yeah.”

With another full-wattage smile, Magdelana dismissed Eve, then all but melted into Roarke. “I’ve only been in town a few days. I was going to contact you, see if we could make a date to catch up. It’s been, my goodness, ten years?”

“Nearer to twelve, I’d think.”

“Twelve!” She rolled her exquisite eyes. “Oh, Franklin, forgive me! My escort, Franklin James. This is Roarke, his wife, and the Derricks.”

“We know each other.” Roarke held out a hand. “Hello, Frank.”

He was thirty years her senior, by Eve’s gauge, looked prosperous and hale. And, she thought, slightly besotted.

“We’ll let you get back to your dinner.” Magdelana ran a hand down Roarke’s arm—a light, somehow intimate gesture. “I’m just thrilled to see you again.” And this time she brushed her lips against Roarke’s cheek. “We’ll have lunch, won’t we, and take a walk down Memory Lane. You won’t mind, will you, Eve?”

“The lunch or the walk?”

Magdelana laughed, a frothy gurgle. “We’ll have to have lunch ourselves, us girls. And tell secrets about Roarke. I’ll be in touch. So nice to meet you.”

Conversation picked up again, over food, and fishing. Though Roarke’s face betrayed nothing but interest in his companions, Eve knew him. So she knew while he ate, he drank, he spoke, his mind was across the elegant room where the stunning Magdelana sipped wine in her bold red dress.

When the evening was done, they put the Derricks in one of Roarke’s limos for the drive back to their hotel, then got into Eve’s vehicle.

“There have probably been a dozen murders committed due to the way you parked this thing.”

“Who is she?”

“I told you, she and Sam own not only a very large portion of Montana, but one of the most successful resorts in the state.”

“Don’t play me that way. Lover.”

“An old friend.” He shifted, his eyes meeting Eve’s. “And yes, we were lovers. It was a long time ago.”

“That much I already know.”

He sighed. “She was in the game. We…competed for a while, then we worked together on a couple of jobs. Then we parted ways.”

“She’s a thief.”

“She was.” He said it with a shrug. “I wouldn’t know if she continues in that profession.” He reached out, and since Eve had gotten behind the wheel, flicked at her hair as she drove. “What does it matter to you?”

I saw something in your eyes
, she wanted to say. “Curiosity,” she said instead. “She’s a looker.”

“She certainly is. Do you know what I thought when you walked into the restaurant?”

“Thank God she doesn’t have blood all over her shoes?”

“No, but good point. I thought, there is the most compelling woman in the room. And she belongs to me.” He laid a hand briefly over hers. “Thanks for tonight.”

“I was late.”

“I noticed. New case?”

“Yeah. Caught it this afternoon.”

“Tell me about it.”

She ordered herself to put old lovers out of her head, and gave him the basics.

4

SHE GRABBED A SHOWER TO WASH AWAY THE LONGday, and tried not to obsess when Roarke didn’t make his usual play to join her under the hot jets. A woman who got herself twisted up because her man—who’d led a very full and…adventurous life before they’d met—ran into a former lover was just asking for stomach spasms.

And she didn’t get herself twisted up, Eve reminded herself as she stepped out of the shower and into the drying tube. Or she never had before this.

She was making too much of a…of a glint, she decided. Of a fraction of a second. Whoever Roarke had bounced on more than a freaking decade before had nothing to do with now.

Nothing at all.

He wasn’t in the bedroom when she went back in. But that meant nothing either. She dragged on some sweats, hunted up some socks that turned out to be cashmere, then headed toward her home office.

Roarke’s adjoined hers. The door was open, the lights on. No reason not to step over and see what was going on.

He was at his desk, the suit jacket and shirt replaced by a black sweater. The furry pudge that was their cat was curled on the corner of the workstation. Galahad blinked his dual-colored eyes, then lowered them to lazy slits.

“Working?” Eve said, and felt stupid, awkward.

“A bit. You?”

“Yeah.” She couldn’t quite figure out what to do with her hands, so she hooked her thumbs in her front pockets. “I figured I’d put some time in.”

He gave her his attention. He had a way of doing that even when he had a zillion things going on. “Want some help?”

“No. No, I got it. It’s just routine stuff.”

And his attention shifted away from her, back to his comp screen. “All right, then. Let me know if you change your mind.”

“Yeah, okay.”

“Lieutenant,” he said as she turned away. “Try not to drink more than a gallon of coffee.”

For some reason it made her feel better that he’d poked at her. She moved into the kitchen of her work space, and programmed her AutoChef for a half pot instead of the full one she’d have ordered up otherwise.

It was good he had some work to do, she thought. They’d both just do what they did for a few hours. She carried her coffee to her desk, and started to call up Peabody’s report on Craig Foster.

Cursed.

“Might as well just do it,” she muttered. “Get it off my brain.” She started the run on Percell, Magdelana, manually, ordering text only on her comp screen. It took some time to find her particular quarry, but she narrowed the search by approximate age, physical description—and unless she’d been way off on the accent—nationality. And scored.

Percell, Magdelana. DOB: March 12, 2029. Born: St. Paul, Minnesota. Parents: Percell, James and Karen. Hair: blond. Eyes: green. Weight: 115 pounds. Height: five feet, five inches.

Eve skimmed over her education, but noted that Magdelana had graduated from high school early—at fifteen. Had attended Princeton and graduated in just under three years on an accelerated program. Cum laude.

“So she’s smart.”

Married: Dupont, Andre, June 22, 2048. No offspring. Divorced: March 2051. Married: Fayette, Georges, April 5, 2055. No offspring. Divorced: October 2059.

Approximate net worth: thirteen point five million U.S. dollars.

Residences: Paris, France; Cannes, France.

No criminal.

Eve sat back.

The official data was slim, and the no criminal doubtful as Roarke had said they’d worked together. Even if she hadn’t been convicted, even if she hadn’t been arrested, there should have been some note in her file about being questioned at some point or other.

He’d cleared it for her, Eve thought, and felt something tighten in her belly. He’d hacked in and tidied up her data, the same way he’d taken care of his own once upon a time.

He’d protected her.

Because it was harder to accept than she’d imagined, Eve ended the search. She already knew more than she wanted to know.

She dove into work, reading Peabody’s report, the case notes. She started runs on staff members as she set up a murder board. And was foolishly pleased when Galahad padded in to leap up and stretch out on her sleep chair.

“What we have here,” she told him, and picked up her coffee, “is your Average Joe. No big highs, no deep lows. Cruising along with his average life without, apparently, getting in anyone’s way. Then one day he gulps down his homemade hot chocolate during his working lunch and dies a very nasty death.

“So who was that pissed off at Average Joe? What was there to gain by his death? Look at his financials. Living within his means, such as they were. Death insurance, sure, but not major. No holdings, no real estate, no fancy artwork. Financial gain is way down on our list here.”

She eased a hip on the edge of her desk, studied the data on her wall screen as she drank her coffee. “And here’s Mirri Hallywell. You could call her an Average Jane. Worked with the vic, hung out with him, had little study sessions with him, and so on. Just friends, though. Now, in your opinion: can two attractive people of the opposite sex, in the same age group, with the same interests who enjoy each other’s company, spend time together and remain only friends? Or will sex, as sex is prone to do, rear its ugly head?”

She glanced toward the adjoining office, annoyed that her line of thinking had circled back around to Roarke and his former playmate.

“It’s possible, sure it’s possible. No sexual spark, maybe. Or the platonic thing is just the level the relationship reaches. Hallywell, however, did have opportunity. As did, naturally, the vic’s wife. Could be the ugly end of an ugly triangle. Just that simple.”

But it
didn’t
feel like that.

“Want the guy, kill the wife. That’s what I’d do. There’s the old ‘If I can’t have you no one will’ gambit, but why now?”

She went back to her notes, to the interviews. No one she’d spoken with had mentioned any sort of upset, argument, controversy, or scandal involving the victim.

“Average Joe,” she repeated, looking back at the now snoring cat. “Mr. Clean Machine.”

“If you’re talking to Galahad, you’re wasting your time,” Roarke pointed out.

“He’s taking it into his subconscious.”

“The only thing in his subconscious is a yearning for salmon. How’s it going for you?”

“Circles and dies on me. No motive, no suspects. He’s just not the type to buy it this way. In a mugging, sure. Some random act, absolutely. Everybody’s the type for that. But someone he knew planned this out, set this up, executed it. And no one who knew him has a reason, that I can find, to want him dead.”

Roarke wandered in to take a look at the ID picture of the victim she had on her wall screen. “He wouldn’t be the first to have some secret life tucked under the average.”

“No, and I’m going to keep digging at the surface. Could’ve been banging that one.” Eve lifted her chin toward the wall screen as she brought Mirri Hallywell up.

“Pretty.”

“Yeah, the wife’s prettier. And according to the retired cop who lives below their apartment, the newlyweds were nailing each other every five minutes, so affair seems superfluous. Still, guys never get tired of sex.”

Roarke patted her ass. “Indeed we don’t.”

She split-screened Mirri and Lissette. Opposite types, physically, she thought. “For some, sex is ice cream, and they want a nice variety.”

Roarke only smiled. “I’ve settled on my single flavor.”

“Yeah, but you worked your way through the menu a few times first. Foster was young,” she continued when Roarke laughed. “Hadn’t had a lot of time to experiment. It doesn’t play all the notes for me,” she murmured. “But it’s the only tune I’ve got at the moment.”

He turned now to study her murder board. “Money is, I assume, not in the equation.”

“Not enough of it.”

“Rage?”

“Have to be cold, dead cold. This wasn’t a crime of passion. Poison’s…aloof. Especially if you’re not around to see it do its work. Not discounting rage,” she added. “I just can’t find any. Everybody liked him.”

“That’s what they said about the Icoves,” he reminded her.

She shook her head. “This guy’s nothing like them. The Icoves were lofty, smug, crazy, sure, but rich and privileged and in the spotlight. This guy was happy in the wings. Going to take a look at his apartment tomorrow,” she said. “Go through his files at school. Maybe he wasn’t the one with a secret. If he knew something, suspected something worth being poisoned for…” She shrugged. “I’ll find it.”

“No doubt.” Roarke stepped over, touched his lips to her brow. “And you can start the hunt in the morning. You’ve had a long day of cop work and wifely duties.”

“Guess I have.” She let him take her hand to lead her out. “The Derricks were okay. But I still don’t want to go to Montana.”

“That’s your cow fear talking. We could go out for a couple of days and stay at the resort. Maybe do a little horseback riding.”

“Oh, there’s a lifelong dream. Getting up on some animal that weighs ten times what I do and saying, ‘Giddyup.’”

“It’s surprisingly exhilarating.”

“I’ll stick with chasing down psychopaths for my thrills, thanks.”

She wondered if he’d gone horseback riding with Magdelana. She wondered how many time
she’d
ridden Magdelana.

Goddamn it.

She turned in the bedroom doorway, pushed him back against the jamb and pressed her lips to his in an avid, energetic kiss. “Or that’s good,” she said, and took a quick bite of his lower lip, “as second place on the thrill-o-meter.”

“Second place, is it?”

“Well, psychos are pretty damn thrilling.”

“I’ll just have to try harder, won’t I?” He reversed their positions quickly, had his mouth on hers, his hands under her sweatshirt. “Wouldn’t want my wife seeking out homicidal maniacs just for a bit of a rush, would I?”

“All in a day’s work. But…” She boosted herself up, wrapped her legs around his waist. “I’ve clocked out.”

Their mouths met again, hot and seeking. Then she took hers on a crazed journey of his face, his throat. The taste,
his
taste—it was everything she craved. He was everything.

She kept her legs locked around him when he lowered her to the bed, wound her arms around his neck. “Tell me you want me.”

“Always. Endlessly.”

“Show me.”

Desire. She could feel it in him. In his hands, in the way they moved over her, in what they took, in what they gave. She could taste it on his lips, that heat.

And still it wasn’t enough. She knew only that she needed more.

For the first time since they’d come together, she wasn’t sure what that more was. She only knew there was a small, cold place inside her that hadn’t been there before. She needed it warmed, she needed it filled.

Desperate, she rolled with him, dragging at his sweater, digging her fingers into flesh and muscle. “Touch me,” she demanded. “Touch me. Touch me.”

Her urgency surprised him. Aroused him. So he feasted on her skin, used his hands to take her over. She moaned his name, a sound of both pleasure and plea. And still she quaked, quivered with needs not yet met.

“Eve.” He lay a hand on her cheek, wanting to see her eyes, to see into them. “Look at me.”

She did what he asked, struggling to let herself fall away. Just fall away. “Inside me. I want you inside me.”

She rose up, not in offer but demand, and guided him to her.

Linked, as only they could be, she told herself. Their rhythm, their heat, their scent. She watched him watch her until her vision blurred. Until there was only speed and movement, the building—frantic and wild—toward that final, sharp-edged release.

When she lay curled against him, her skin dewed from passion, there was still that small, cold place inside her where the heat hadn’t quite reached.

In the morning, he was up and out of bed before she was. But he wasn’t in the sitting area, drinking coffee while he watched the financial reports on screen.

She readied for the day, keenly missing the routine—the conversation, sharing breakfast. Why wasn’t he there, telling her she was wearing the wrong jacket with the wrong pants?

And the night before? Why hadn’t he pushed himself into her work? Why wasn’t he here, right now, nagging her to eat something?

She strapped on her weapon harness with an irritated jerk. It was just fine. He was busy, so was she. She didn’t need or want the man in her pocket every hour of the day.

She strode to her office to retrieve files, though she’d already copied them to her unit at Central. She turned casually toward his office door, had taken only one step when she heard his voice.

“No, I was up. Yes, old habits die hard.”

On the ’link, Eve realized, and since there was only his voice, he had it on privacy mode.

“It was, yes, quite a surprise. I would, of course. I’m sure we do. Why don’t we say one o’clock then, at Sisters Three. I think you’ll like it. Shall I send a car for you? No, Maggie, it’s no trouble. I’ll see you then.”

Maggie,Eve thought as her stomach sank. Not Magdelana, who was glamorous and just a little distant. But Maggie, who was warm and affectionate.

She stepped into the doorway and saw she’d done the nearly impossible and caught him off guard. Still, she couldn’t read him in that instant when he stared off into some thought or memory that wasn’t hers to share. Then his attention, along with a distracted smile, was on her.

“There you are.”

“Yeah, here I am. At your desk early.”

“I had a ’link conference with London at six our time.” Behind him the laser fax signaled an incoming he ignored. “I was about to head back and talk you into breakfast.”

“Full of meal plans today. Lunch?”

“Sorry? Oh, yes. Apparently Magdelana remembered I’m an early riser.” He slipped the date book he had on his desk into his pocket as he got to his feet. “We’ll have lunch.”

“So I heard. You’re going to want to be careful there, pal.”

“Of what?”

“It wouldn’t be the first old friend you’ve had come around hoping you’d dip back into the game for old times’ sake. You might want to remind her you’re sleeping with a cop these days.”

BOOK: Innocent in Death
9.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Reprisal by Colin T. Nelson
California Romance by Colleen L. Reece
LivingfortheMoment_F by Marilyn Lee
Changeling by FEASEY, Steve
The Coal War by Upton Sinclair
Las manzanas by Agatha Christie
A Long Pitch Home by Natalie Dias Lorenzi
Cowboy Take Me Away by Lorelei James