Read Serial Bride Online

Authors: Ann Voss Peterson

Serial Bride

He demanded answers.

“Can I help you?” Sylvie's voice carried in soft and low tones better suited to a seductress than a murderess. Of course there was no reason she couldn't be both.

“Bryce Walker. I'm an attorney. I need to ask you some questions.” His voice sounded as businesslike and detached as he'd hoped. As if he was merely doing his job for a client.

The furthest thing from the truth.

He peered through the small crack, trying to get a better look at her. Blond hair, large blue eyes, a heart-shaped face any man would enjoy seeing on the pillow beside him. She held a hand to her chest, spreading pink-polished fingers across cleavage exposed by a formal green gown.

“You are Diana Gale.”

“She is my sister. She was supposed to be married today. But the wedding never took place.”

She sounded sincere. Fortunately he was well aware of his typical male weakness for beautiful women. And he knew how to compensate.

ANN VOSS PETERSON
SERIAL BRIDE

To Michael Voss and Christopher Voss,
the best brothers a girl could have.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ever since she was a little girl making her own books out of construction paper, Ann Voss Peterson wanted to write. So when it came time to choose a major at the University of Wisconsin, creative writing was her only choice. Of course, writing wasn't a
practical
choice—one needs to earn a living. So Ann found jobs ranging from proofreading legal transcripts, to working with quarter horses, to washing windows. But no matter how she earned her paycheck, she continued to write the type of stories that captured her heart and imagination—romantic suspense. Ann lives near Madison, Wisconsin, with her husband, her two young sons, her Border collie and her quarter horse mare. Ann loves to hear from readers. E-mail her at [email protected] or visit her Web site at annvosspeterson.com.

Books by Ann Voss Peterson

HARLEQUIN INTRIGUE

579—INADMISSABLE PASSION

618—HIS WITNESS, HER CHILD

647—ACCESSORY TO MARRIAGE

674—LAYING DOWN THE LAW

684—GYPSY MAGIC

“Sabina”

702—CLAIMING HIS FAMILY

723—INCRIMINATING PASSION

745—THE BOYS IN BLUE

“Liam”

780—LEGALLY BINDING

878—MARITAL PRIVILEGE

925—SERIAL BRIDE
*

CAST OF CHARACTERS

Sylvie Hayes
—A survivor of the foster care system, Sylvie had always dreamed of having a family of her own. But when her long-lost twin sister disappears from her own wedding, and Sylvie's family turns out to be more nightmare than dream, who can she turn to? Who can she trust?

Bryce Walker
—Convinced Sylvie's sister is a handmaiden of the serial killer responsible for his brother's death, Bryce works to win Sylvie's trust, hoping she will lead him to the missing bride. But he doesn't count on the need to protect Sylvie. Or the need to claim her for his own.

Diana Gale
—Sylvie's twin sister was supposed to be walking down the aisle to marry the man she loves. Instead the bride is missing and her groom is barely clinging to life. Is she the family Sylvie has always wanted or a dangerous killer?

Detective Stan Perreth
—The secretive police detective has a bad attitude. Is he working to find Diana or working to blame her for his crimes?

Dryden Kane
—The serial killer has been in prison for years. Now he's anxious to settle the score.

Louis Ingersoll
—Diana's neighbor would do anything for her. But does that include murder?

Professor Vincent Bertram
—The professor has spent much of his life studying the grisly crimes of Dryden Kane. How far will he go to make sure his research pays off?

Sami Yamal
—The professor's assistant, Sami believes he deserves credit for the professor's research. But how far will he go to prove he is the real expert?

Chapter One

Sylvie Hayes dug her polished nails into the tulle wrapping the stems of her maid-of-honor nosegay and stared down the church's long aisle. A blend of alstroemeria and autumn chrysanthemums smothered the altar. Faces peered expectantly from pews, a sea of humanity tied back with white lacy bows. The organ soared into Bach, rattling stained glass like thunder from an approaching storm—the cue to start her measured march down the aisle.

Where was Diana?

Her sister had said she needed a moment to check her makeup, to make sure everything was perfect for her wedding. But that had been over fifteen minutes ago. She should be back by now.

And where was the groom?

Sylvie squinted at the shadows to the side of the altar. Although she spotted the minister and best man, she couldn't see Reed McCaskey anywhere.

Sylvie and Diana might not know one another as well as twins who'd grown up in the same household, but since Diana had tracked her down six months ago, they had become close. Closer than Sylvie had dared to get to another person. And even though Diana's marriage would probably change things, she felt the connection they shared, the sense of the other she'd heard about in twins, would never go away. She'd feel an unexplained twinge of joy before Diana even had a chance to call her about good news. An insistent hum in the back of her mind when Diana was in trouble. That hum had been building to a crescendo over the past three months. Now it threatened to drown out the organ.

Sylvie turned away from the mouth of the nave and started down the long hall leading to the lounge where she and Diana had dressed for the wedding. She had to find her sister. She had to make sure Diana was okay.

Her heels clacked on the marble floor, matching the thump of her pulse. No doubt Diana was wrestling with her veil or some other detail. Or maybe she and Reed had argued. Whatever had happened, the alarm buzzing low in Sylvie's ears was due to an overactive imagination. Nothing more.

She quickened her pace.

She pushed her way into the lounge. The room appeared just as they'd left it. Makeup cases and dress
bags cluttered the tables and draped to the floor. Photos from an instant camera smiled from a pile on one of the sofas. The spice of perfume still hung in the air.

But no Diana.

Was she preening in front of the mirror in the adjoining restroom? Sylvie crossed the lounge and opened the door. The vanity was vacant, the wide mirror catching no reflection but her own—a slip of seafoam satin, a fall of blond hair, the gleam of worry in light-blue eyes.

She ripped her gaze from the image and peered down the row of bathroom stalls. “Diana?” Her voice echoed off the white tile.

She gathered her gown in a fist. Bending low, she looked under the stalls. A wisp of white touched the floor in the large stall at the end, a dark shadow behind it. “Diana? Are you okay?”

Only the organ answered, its bass tones trembling through walls and centering deep in Sylvie's chest. She straightened and stepped down the row of bathroom stalls. Reaching the end, she grasped the handle and pulled.

A body lay face against the wall. Wetness glistened in black hair and trailed down the back of the tux. Motionless fingers clutched Diana's veil, the antique lace red with blood.

“Reed. Oh, my God, Reed!” She knelt beside
him. Slipping her hand along the side of his throat, she felt for a pulse.

A thready beat drummed against her fingertips.

He was alive. Thank God, he was alive. But he needed help. He needed an ambulance.

And Diana. Where was Diana?

The hum in her ears roared loud as a freight train bearing down.

Chapter Two

Sylvie watched the paramedics wheel the stretcher down the long church hall and out to the waiting ambulance. Reed was still unconscious. The white sheet cupped around him as if he was a child tucked into bed. Thick black straps hugged him to the gurney.

She wrapped her arms around her own middle, trying to warm herself, trying to feel strong. Stains marred the long seafoam silk of her gown, rust-colored smudges of Reed's blood.

“You're the one who found him?” a cigarette-roughened voice asked from behind her.

She turned around and faced a man with hard eyes and the jowls of a bulldog. “Excuse me?”

He let out an impatient sigh. “I need you to answer some questions for me. I'm in charge of this case. Detective Stan Perreth.”

Her stomach lurched. She'd never met Perreth, not in the flesh, but she'd heard enough stories about
him to inspire a bout of nausea. On one of her first visits to Madison, the detective had hauled Reed in front of a review committee for a punch Reed had delivered when Perreth's wife, a 911 dispatcher, had come to work with a battered face and a walking-into-a-doorknob explanation. Bad blood ran deep between the two men. And Perreth was now in charge of finding out who had attacked Reed and taken Diana?

“The first officer to the scene said you found Reed McCaskey.”

Sylvie forced a deep breath. Surely Perreth could see beyond the bad blood. Surely he would do his job despite his personal feelings. “Yes. I found him when I went to check on my sister.”

“Did you touch anything? Move anything?”

She thought back, trying to reconstruct what she'd done. “I checked his pulse. I ran out into the lounge. I went through Diana's bag to find her cell phone.” And she'd grabbed her own purse. Had she touched anything else? She couldn't remember.

He held out a hand. “Give me the phone.”

Sylvie looked down. Sure enough, the phone was still clenched in her fingers. She handed it to Perreth.

Perreth gripped it gingerly, his hands encased in clear plastic gloves. “Did your sister voice any doubts about this wedding?”

“No. I don't think so, anyway. She's been looking
forward to marrying Reed as long as I've known her.”

“Did she and McCaskey have a fight?”

“A fight?”

“I'm trying to figure out what happened here this afternoon. Answer the question, please.”

“There was no fight. They were both excited about the wedding. Anxious to get married.”

“Anxious.” He scribbled the word in his notebook.

Sylvie had an uneasy feeling about where he was heading. “You're taking this wrong. They were happy. They loved each other. They were eager to be together, to start their new life.”

He nodded, but she got the feeling he was still concentrating on the word anxious.

Had she chosen that word subconsciously? Maybe she had. Diana
had
been anxious the past few months. But not about her love for Reed. Not about her marriage. At least, not that Sylvie was aware of. “I don't think you're understanding me.”

He glanced up at her from under bushy brows. “Oh?”

“Diana and Reed were in love. They wanted to get married.”

“Did you notice any tension between them recently?”

Back to the same track. Like a bulldog worrying over a bone. “Between them? No.”

“But you noticed tension.”

What was she supposed to say? She couldn't lie. “Diana seemed tense about something, yes. But not about her marriage.”

He nodded, but she wasn't at all sure he had heard what she said. Not all of it, anyway.

“Where does your sister live?”

“She has an apartment on Pinckney Street. In the old Mueller building.”

“Apartment number?”

“Three B.”

He jotted it down. “Good, we'll get a warrant and take a look.”

Unease niggled at the back of her neck with the force of a toothy bite. “If looking in Diana's apartment will help find her, I can let you in.”

“Do you live with her?”

“No. I'm just visiting for the wedding.” She'd been considering moving to Madison. To live near her sister. She could just as easily wait tables up here. Or maybe get a more fulfilling job. But she hadn't yet taken the plunge. “Diana gave me a key, though.”

“No good. You don't have legal standing.”

“Legal standing?”

“We need permission from someone with legal standing.”

“Why?” The buzz in Sylvie's ears grew, making
it hard to think. The only time she'd heard the term
legal standing
was on an episode of
Law & Order.
And then it had been used to argue the admissibility of evidence—evidence used against someone charged with murder. “You think Diana did this? You think she hurt Reed?”

He held up a hand as if to shield himself from her hysteria. “I don't draw conclusions until I finish looking at the evidence.”

“It sounds like you're drawing a conclusion to me. A wrong conclusion.”

“I assure you that's not the case.” He looked down at his notes. “But there was a history of abuse in your sister's adopted family, isn't that correct?”

“What are you getting at?”

“They say women who are abused as children often choose men who—”

“Hold on right there. You think Reed hit Diana?”

The detective stared at her, a smug look in his deep-set eyes. “Like I said, I'm still looking at the evidence. But there's a good chance your sister isn't to blame, no matter what happened. There's a chance she was merely defending herself.”

She couldn't believe what she was hearing. “That's your story, not Reed's and Diana's.”

Bushy brows lowered over hard eyes.

She shouldn't have said anything. And now that the words had left her lips, she couldn't bite them back.

Footsteps approached from down the hall. A uniformed officer stopped behind Perreth. “Detective?”

“Can it wait?”

“I think you're going to want to see this.”

Detective Perreth's mouth twisted into something close to a snarl. “Stick around. I'll want to talk to you further.” He spun away and followed the officer.

Sylvie groaned. She had really screwed up, throwing what she knew about Perreth into his face. But she couldn't help it. His accusation was ridiculous. How could he possibly think Reed had abused Diana? That Diana had struck back? It would be laughable, even pitiful, if he wasn't in charge of the case. If he wasn't the one who was
supposed
to be figuring out what really happened. The one who was
supposed
to be finding Diana.

Hot tears stung Sylvie's eyes. She obviously couldn't rely on Perreth. Which meant she couldn't rely on the police.

Down the hall, Perreth followed the officer into the lounge. As soon as he rounded the corner, Sylvie started for the church's front door. She needed to find Diana herself. Starting with getting to Diana's apartment before Perreth.

 

B
RYCE
W
ALKER
had spent so much of the past week tracking down Diana Gale that when her apartment door opened and an ice-blue eye peered over the
security chain, it took all he had to keep from kicking the door in, pinning her to the wall and demanding answers.

“Can I help you?” Her voice carried soft and low tones better suited to a seductress than a murderess. Of course there was no reason she couldn't be both.

“Bryce Walker. I'm an attorney. I need to ask you some questions regarding a case I'm working on.” His voice sounded as businesslike and detached as he'd hoped. As if this really was any case. As if he was merely doing his job for a client.

The furthest thing from the truth.

He reached into his pocket, pulled out a business card and slipped it through the narrow opening.

She accepted the card with manicured fingers. “I don't think you want me.”

“You are Diana Gale.”

“Diana is my sister.”

He peered through the small crack, trying to get a better look at her. Blond hair, large blue eyes, a heart-shaped face any man would enjoy seeing on the pillow beside him. A silver eyebrow ring pierced through the elegant arch of one brow, bringing a touch of rebellion to the picture. She held a hand to her chest, spreading pink-polished fingers across cleavage exposed by a formal green gown.

It was Diana Gale, all right. “I've seen your picture. And I know you're an only child.”

“I'm Diana's twin. We were separated as toddlers.”

She sounded sincere. But then, whatever she said in that musical voice would probably sound sincere. Fortunately he was well aware of his typical male weakness for beautiful women. And he knew how to compensate. “What is your name?”

“Sylvie Hayes.”

“And you live in this area?”

“I live in Chicago.”

“Where in Chicago?”

“Why do you want to see Diana?”

Normally he might think her abrupt duck of his question evasive. But there was something in her voice. Worry, fear, he didn't know what—but he got the distinct impression she was concerned. About what? His questions? Her sister? Was she really who she claimed? “Are you worried about Diana for some reason?”

“I want to know why you want to see her, that's all. So I can pass along the message.”

A lie if he'd ever heard one. And in all the years he'd spent in the courtroom, he'd heard plenty. Not only was he sure she was worried, the prospect that she was telling the truth earlier seemed likely, as well. Maybe she
was
Diana Gale's twin.

Just the kind of woman his brother Ty would have insisted on helping.

A hollow twinge vibrated in his gut like a
plucked guitar string. Bryce cultivated an immunity to beautiful women, but his brother had been another story. Ty would commit the resources of their law firm the moment a tear welled in a feminine litigant's eye.

But then, Ty had been the better man.

“I have a case to discuss with your sister.” He peered over Sylvie Hayes's blond head, trying to see into the apartment through the small space in the door. “Will you tell her I'm here?”

“What kind of case?”

“The confidential kind.”

“Well, Diana isn't here.”

Was she telling the truth? Probably. She didn't seem to be a very accomplished liar. Unlike her sister. “Where can I find Diana?”

“I'm afraid I don't know.”

“When will she be back?”

“I don't know that, either. But maybe if you tell me a little more about why you want to talk to her, I can help.”

“If you don't know where she is or when she'll be back, I can't see how.”

Her lips pressed into a thoughtful line. “You asked if I was worried about her?”

Maybe now they were getting somewhere. “Yes.”

“I am. If you tell me what this is about, maybe I can make some sense out of things. For both of us.”

Okay. He'd roll the dice. Since the client in this matter was actually himself, the case's confidentiality was as flexible as he needed. “I came across your sister's name yesterday. It was on the sign-in sheet at the Banesbridge prison. She visited an inmate there several times in the past year. I want to know why.”

Pale-blue eyes rounded in surprise. Or fear. Or maybe both. “Diana?”

“Yes, Diana.”

Her eyebrows pinched together, causing a tiny crease at the top of her slender nose. “I don't understand.”

“She signed in as part of a university research project under the supervision of a Vincent Bertram.”

“Bertram?”

He did his best to tamp down his frustration. He wanted answers, not to listen to her parrot his every word. “He's a professor in the psychology department.”

She shook her head. “Diana is earning her Ph.D. in English. I can't see her finding a lot of twelfth-century poetry in prison. Are you sure it was her?”

“I'm sure.” Her signatures on the sign-in sheets were burned on the inside of his eyelids like a brand. “Your sister is the only Diana Gale at the university. The guards recognized her picture. The only other person it could have been is you.”

The tiny crease deepened. “That doesn't make any sense.”

None of it made sense. Especially not his kid brother's death. “Of course, your sister might have used her affiliation at the university to gain access, and the visit was personal.”

“Personal? How?”

“I was hoping you might have some idea.”

Once again she shook her head. “I don't.” She sounded certain, but her eyes blinked and shifted.

“I would bet a lot of money you do have ideas. Plenty of them.”

“I'm sorry.” Through the sliver of the opening, he could see her throat move under tender skin. “What prisoner was she visiting?”

He hesitated. The idea of saying the man's name to those delicate eyes already filled with fear felt cruel. And although Ty had accused Bryce of being heartless more than a few times when he'd hesitated to take his brother's charity cases, he was not an abusive man. “My cell phone number is on that card. Have your sister call when she gets home. I'll be up late.” He turned away from the door.

Behind him, the door slammed shut followed by the rattle of the security chain. A second later the door flew open and Sylvie Hayes jolted into the hall. “Wait.”

He turned to face her.

He could tell she was attractive through the small
space in the door, but he still wasn't prepared for the full stunning view. The green dress flowed over smooth curves like water. Cheeks flushed pink under translucent skin. Wide eyes flashed with light-blue fire and more than a little desperation. “You have to tell me who she visited.”

“It's confidential.”

“Confidential? I can probably pick up the phone and find out tomorrow.”

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