Authors: Lisa Jackson
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.
The phone jangled and Sam punched the button for the speaker phone. “Hi, this is Samantha.”
“Glad I caught you in.”
She froze. Her heart missed a beat. “Who is this?” she said, but she recognized the smooth, sexy voice immediately.
“Don’t play games, Samantha. You know who I am. Are we having fun yet?”
Sam wanted to slam down the receiver, but couldn’t sever the connection, not if she ever wanted to nail this creep. “I wouldn’t call it fun. Not fun at all.”
“I caught your program tonight.”
“But you didn’t phone in.”
“I’m calling now,” he pointed out. “I wanted to talk to you alone. What we need to discuss is personal.”
“I don’t even know who you are.”
“Sure you do,
you just don’t remember.”
“What is it you want? Why are you calling me?”
“Because I know you for what you are, Samantha. A phony.” He was getting angry now, his voice becoming agitated. “Women like you need to be punished.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“It’s all in your past, Dr. Sam, that past you hide from the world. But I know. I was there. The wages of sin are death,” he reminded her coldly.
“And you’re gonna die. You’re gonna die soon…”
SEE HOW SHE DIES
IF SHE ONLY KNEW
THE NIGHT BEFORE
THE MORNING AFTER
SHIVER MOST LIKELY TO DIE
LEFT TO DIE
CHOSEN TO DIE
BORN TO DIE
Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation
To John Scognamiglio, who was not only the editor of this book, but a major player in the creative process, just as he was with all my books for Kensington, especially during the writing of
If She Only Knew.
Always sane, with infinite patience and brilliant ideas that push me farther than I might dare to go, John has so inspired me that I’m paying him back by naming the villain in this book after him. Thanks, John!
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 their support, knowledge, and expertise, without which this book would not have been written. Thanks to Nancy Berland, Eric Brown, Ken and Nancy Bush, Matthew Crose, Michael Crose, Alexis Harrington, Jenny Hold, Richard Jaskiel, Michael Kavanaugh, Mary Clare Kersten, Debbie Macomber, Arla Melum, Ken Melum, Ari Okano, Kathy and Bob Okano, Betty and Jack Pederson, Jim and Sally Peters, Jeff and Karen Rosenberg, Robin Rue, Jon Salem, John Scognamiglio, Larry and Linda Sparks, Mark and Celia Stinson, Jane Thornton, The LO Rowers, and, of course, Pliney the Elder.
If I’ve missed anyone, my apologies.
New Orleans, Louisiana
“You want something special?” she asked, running the tip of her tongue over her lips provocatively. He shook his head.
There’s something wrong with this guy. Seriously wrong,
Cherie Bellechamps thought, a drip of fear sliding through her blood. She thought about calling the whole thing off, telling the john to get lost, but she needed the cash. Maybe her imagination was getting the better of her. Maybe he wasn’t a creep.
She unbuttoned her dress slowly and felt his eyes upon her, just as hundreds of other eyes had stared in the past. No big deal.
Over the noise of the city, music played from her bedside radio. Frank Sinatra’s smooth voice. Which usually calmed her. Not tonight.
A hot June breeze, heavy with the dank breath of the Mississippi, blew through the open window. It ruffled the yellowed lace curtains and cooled the beads of sweat collecting on Cherie’s forehead, but didn’t ease her case of nerves.
The john sat on a three-legged stool and fingered a rosary in one hand, the blood-red beads catching in the frail light. So what was he? Some kind of religious nut? A priest who couldn’t handle celibacy? Or was this just another weird fetish? Lord knew in New Orleans there were thousands of oddballs, all with their own sexual fantasy.
“You like?” she asked, conjuring up a slightly Cajun accent as she ran a long-nailed finger along the cleft of her breasts and pushed aside any lingering trepidations.
“Keep going.” From the stool in the little room, he wiggled a finger at her bra and panties.
“Don’t you want to?” she asked, her voice low and sultry.
She didn’t know how much he could see. This second-story room on the fringes of the French Quarter was lit by a single lamp, the shade covered in a black-lace mantilla so that intricate shadows played upon the walls and hid the cracks in the old plaster. Besides that, the john was wearing Ray-Bans with dark lenses. Cherie couldn’t see his eyes, but it didn’t matter. He was good-looking. Athletic. His jaw was square, his nose straight, his lips thin and secretive in a day’s worth of stubble. He wore a dark shirt, black jeans and his hair was a thick, coffee brown. Unless there was something hideously wrong with his eyes, this guy was Hollywood handsome.
And spooky as sin.
Already he’d asked her to scrub her face and don a red wig to cover her short platinum hair. She hadn’t argued. Didn’t care what got a trick off.
She flicked off the front clasp of her bra and let the scrap of red lace slide to the floor.
He didn’t so much as move. Except to rub the damned rosary beads.
“You got a name?” she asked.
“You’re not going to share it?”
“Call me Father.”
“Father like…my dad…or”—she glanced at the dark beads running through his fingers— “like a priest?”
“How about Father John?” It was her attempt at a joke. He didn’t smile.
So much for levity.
Time to end this, get paid, and send him packing.
She wriggled out of her panties and sat on the edge of the bed, giving him a full view of every part of her.
Okay, so some guys got off on watching a woman strip. Some even just watched, never touched as she fondled herself, but this john was so cold and emotionless—eerily so—and what was with the glasses? “We could have some fun,” she suggested, trying to speed things up. He was well into his hour, and so far nothing much was happening. “Just you and me…”
He didn’t respond except to reach over and drop a hundred-dollar bill onto the nightstand. Sinatra’s voice was cut off as Father John switched the radio station. From “When I Was Seventeen…” through a series of beeps, chirps and static until he found the station he wanted—some talk show she’d heard before—a popular one with a female psychologist giving advice. But Cherie wasn’t listening. She was staring at the C-note on the nightstand. It was marred. Ben Franklin’s eyes had been blacked out with a marking pen, as if he, too, like the man in shades, was hiding his identity.
Or didn’t want to see.
Odd. Creepy. Weird.
Father John had picked her up a block off Bourbon Street, asked her for a date, and she’d looked him over, thought he’d seemed all right and named her price. He’d agreed and she’d brought him here, to the seedy apartment she and a couple of other girls kept just for this purpose. Her other life was in another parish…across the lake…and for a second she thought of her five-year-old daughter and the ongoing custody battle with her ex. No one in Covington knew she turned tricks to help make ends meet; no one could ever, or she’d lose custody and any contact she had with her only child.
Now she was second-guessing her actions. The john was too edgy, his calm masking a restlessness that was evident in a small vein throbbing near his temple and the movement of finger and thumb on the beads. She thought of the pistol she kept in the top drawer of the nightstand. If things got dicey, she’d reach over, swoop up the hundred-spot, yank open the drawer and pull the.38. Scare him off. Keep the C-note.
“Why don’t you join me?” she suggested, lying back on the chenille bedspread, smiling and not expecting him to move. God, it was hot.
“Take off my clothes.” He stood. Walked to the bed.
His command seemed out of sync, but at least it was a common one. So he was going to get down to business. Good. Voyeurs usually didn’t touch. The minutes were ticking off, but she took her time, standing so that she could slowly unbutton his shirt. She shoved it off shoulders that were muscular and a chest without any flab, just a wall of rock-hard muscles covered with dark, coiled hair. She unbuckled his belt, and he fingered the cross she always wore as it dangled just above her breasts.
“It—it was a gift from my daughter…last Christmas.” Oh, God, he wouldn’t steal it, would he?
“You need something more.” He slipped the rosary beads over her head. Over the red wig. Yeah, maybe he was a priest. A freaky one.
The sharp beads were warm from being fondled. They fell into the cleft between her breasts. It was creepy. Too creepy. She should tell him to get out now. “There. That’s better.” One side of Father John’s mouth lifted, as if he was finally satisfied with the scenario. Ready to get down to business.
“What’s with the rosary?”
His body was perfect. Honed. Tanned. Hard.
Except for his cock. It hung limp, as if he wasn’t getting off at all.
She ran a finger down his chest, and he pulled her against him. Kissed her hard with cold, unfeeling lips and dragged her onto the sagging mattress of her iron bed. She had a rule—no lips on lips, but she let it slide, just to end this.
“That’s a boy,” she cooed, and reached for the sunglasses. Strong fingers circled her wrist.
“Afraid I’ll recognize you?” Maybe he was famous—God, he was good-looking enough. Maybe he was some kind of celebrity and didn’t want her to recognize him. Or maybe he was married. More likely…
“Just…don’t.” His grip was like steel.
“Fine, fine…whatever.” She kissed his cheek and ran her fingers along the ridges of his well-toned muscles. He moved against her and she worked hard, touching all those erotic spots guaranteed to cause an erection. To no avail. No matter how much she kissed, licked and purred, he was only going through the motions, not turned on at all.
Come on, come on,
I haven’t got all night.
She was vaguely aware of the radio, the psychologist, Dr. Sam, was close to signing off, giving her signature spiel about love and lust in this city on the Delta, and Father John, too, turned to listen to the radio shrink.
Maybe he was being distracted and that was the problem. She reached for the radio dial—
“Don’t touch it,” he growled, every muscle in his body flexing.
Blinding pain exploded in the left side of her face as his fist connected.
She squealed. Tasted the metallic flavor of her own blood. This was not good. Not good. “Wait a second, you son of a bitch—”
He raised his fist again. She saw him through a rapidly swelling eye. “Don’t mess with the radio or my shades,” he growled.
She tried to squirm away. “Get out! Get the hell out!”
He tried to kiss her.
She bit him.
He didn’t so much as flinch.
“Get out, you bastard! No one hits me. Don’t you get it? It’s over.”
“Not quite yet it isn’t, but it will be.” He pinned her to the sheets. Kissed her again. Hard. As if he was getting off on her pain. Cheek throbbing, Cherie tried to wriggle out from under him, but he held her fast with his athletic body.
She was trapped.
Frantic. Hitting him, clawing at him, shoving him.
“That’s it, you sinner, you cunt,” he growled. “Fight me.” His hands were rough. He nipped at one breast, twisted the other.
She screamed and he stopped her by grinding his mouth against hers. She tried to bite him, flailed at him with her fists, but he was strong. Incensed. Turned on. Oh, God, how far was this going to go?
Fear congealed her blood. What if he didn’t stop? What if he tortured her all night?
Pain shot up her torso as he bit her breast.
Writhing, she spied the radio, the digital display glowing over the hundred-dollar bill, Dr. Sam’s voice cool and collected and savvy.
Cherie thought, scrabbling for the drawer and her gun, knocking over the lamp, kicking wildly, feeling his suddenly rock-hard erection.
So it was rape.
He wanted to rape her. If he’d only said something, she would have played along, but now she was scared. Scared as hell.
Just do it and don’t hurt me!
He yanked her head off the pillow and she cried out just as he tightened the rosary around her throat, the sharp-edged beads slicing her skin, the dark facets winking malevolently.
Oh, God, he’s going to kill me.
Fear screamed through her blood. She looked into those shaded eyes and knew it.
He twisted the rosary as he thrust deep into her. Cherie’s eyes bulged, she couldn’t breathe, her arms flailed and she scratched, but to no avail. Blackness…all around her there was blackness…Her lungs burned…her heart felt as if it would explode….
Please God, help me!
He wrenched the beaded noose. She gasped. Got no air. Something rasped and gurgled inside her. Blood, oh, God, she tasted her own blood…Again…
Blackness crawled from the outside in and she thought fleetingly of her daughter…sweet, sweet baby…
He was sweating, grinding against her, his breath racing and as she let go she felt him stiffen and heard his guttural, primal roar. Dimly over the sound of his labored breathing and the roar in her brain there was another voice. Far away. So far away.
“This is Dr. Sam, with a final word…Take care of yourself, New Orleans. Good night to you all and God bless. No matter what your troubles are today, there is always tomorrow…. Sweet dreams…”