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Authors: Elizabeth Lowell

The Color of Death

BOOK: The Color of Death
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The Color of
Death

E
LIZABETH
L
OWELL

To the many people who enrich my life.

You know who you are.

Contents

E-Book Extra: Excerpt: No Escape by Heather Lowell

CHAPTER 1
Lee Mandel spent a lot of time looking over his shoulder. It came…

CHAPTER 2
Jaime “Seguro” Jimenez de los Santos knew it was his lucky day…

CHAPTER 3
Kate Chandler couldn’t concentrate. With a muttered curse she…

CHAPTER 4
Heart pounding, Kate looked over the crowded conference. She…

CHAPTER 5
Sam Groves leaned against the Scottsdale Royale’s expensively papered…

CHAPTER 6
Kate was so relieved to find Mike Purcell alone in the booth that…

CHAPTER 7
Sam Groves dragged his prey away from Purcell’s booth and out…

CHAPTER 8
The FBI’s crime strike force had a formal headquarters in a…

CHAPTER 9
Eduardo Pedro Selva de los Santos walked up and down the narrow…

CHAPTER 10
Warily, Kate Chandler stood just outside the bank of elevators and…

CHAPTER 11
Sam saw the sexy con artist slide into a handy elevator, thought…

CHAPTER 12
The headquarters of Hall Jewelry International was in an old…

CHAPTER 13
Sharon Sizemore shook back her artfully sun-streaked brown hair,…

CHAPTER 14
Sam watched while Gavin Greenfield entered the lobby of the hotel…

CHAPTER 15
Kate heard her doorbell ring, looked at the clock above her workbench,…

CHAPTER 16
Ted Sizemore’s voice cut through the fog of smoke and alcohol…

CHAPTER 17
Sam leaned against the kitchen doorway, sipping coffee and listening…

CHAPTER 18
Kirby grabbed his digital phone off the bedside, looked at the incoming…

CHAPTER 19
Sam’s stomach growled as he climbed up the steps to the strike…

CHAPTER 20
Tex White acquired his target just where he’d been told she would…

CHAPTER 21
Why hasn’t he called? Did he tell his boss about me and now he

CHAPTER 22
“You don’t know?” Ted Sizemore stalked around his daughter’s hotel…

CHAPTER 23
Sam looked up from the mug of coffee Kate had poured for him.

CHAPTER 24
While Kirby snapped on exam gloves, he watched the golf cart…

CHAPTER 25
When Sam slid in and shut the door behind him at three minutes…

CHAPTER 26
Sam had more experience with the media than Mario. When the…

CHAPTER 27
Kate glanced out the peephole of her front door, then started…

CHAPTER 28
Sam’s cell phone woke him up. He grabbed it and checked the…

CHAPTER 29
Sharon rolled over in bed, caught sight of the radio alarm clock,…

CHAPTER 30
Peyton was in his bathrobe when he opened the door for Jack…

CHAPTER 31
Sam leaned on the table and watched Kate working over various…

CHAPTER 32
“Where the hell is Groves?” Kennedy demanded, slamming the…

CHAPTER 33
Peyton adjusted his dark suit jacket and waited impatiently for…

CHAPTER 34
Worldwide Wholesale Estate Gems had a booth in the same room…

CHAPTER 35
“You were right,” Sam said to Kate as he put a shopping bag on the…

CHAPTER 36
Kirby sat behind the wheel of a baby-white SUV with heavily…

CHAPTER 37
“I always wondered how I’d look as a green-eyed redhead,” Kate…

CHAPTER 38
Sam surveyed the men gathered in Boris Peterson’s suite and wondered…

CHAPTER 39
“Are you sure you can stand another one?” Kate asked Sam. “We…

CHAPTER 40
Kirby drove his rental car into the Royale employee parking lot a…

CHAPTER 41
A man came in through the employee door, brushed by Sam and…

CHAPTER 42
“That’s the best you can do?” Sizemore asked harshly as he opened…

CHAPTER 43
Kirby parked the white SUV in the east economy lot at Sky Harbor.

CHAPTER 44
Doug pushed back from the clever yet cramped desk space in the…

CHAPTER 45
It had been a long time since Sizemore had retired from the FBI,…

CHAPTER 46
As soon as Kate shut the door behind Sam, she automatically began…

CHAPTER 47
A cell phone rang, interrupting Sam and Kate just as they were…

CHAPTER 48
Sam awoke to the hotel phone ringing. And ringing. He looked at…

CHAPTER 49
The biggest difference between Kennedy’s “office” in the motor…

CHAPTER 50
Sam spread the sketches on a worktable that Kate had cleared for…

CHAPTER 51
The door to Kennedy’s office was yanked open before Sam could…

CHAPTER 52
Under cover of her eyelashes, Kate looked up from her polishing…

CHAPTER 53
“Jason, you know we’d fall apart without you,” Sharon said into…

CHAPTER 54
Kirby sat in his locked hotel room, staring at his palm.

CHAPTER 55
Sam wasn’t a Bureau hacker, but he’d been taught by one how to…

CHAPTER 56
Kirby was driving a dark blue rental car when he closed in on Kate…

CHAPTER 57
The wreckage of mostly eaten pizza and too many cups of coffee…

CHAPTER 58
If the neighborhood had been quiet a few hours ago, now it was…

CHAPTER 59
Sam woke up with a rush of adrenaline that told him something…

CHAPTER 60
“What do you mean Eduardo’s dead?” Peyton demanded.

CHAPTER 61
Kate looked at the black motor coach with its blanked-out windows…

CHAPTER 62
Sizemore stalked into his hotel suite, only to find that Peyton was…

CHAPTER 63
“When do you think he’ll call?” Kate asked.

CHAPTER 64
Kennedy’s expression was grim. His office was wearing a shroud…

CHAPTER 65
“Hey,” Kate said, coming up behind Sam as he hunched over his…

CHAPTER 66
“You sure you can’t spend the night?” Peyton asked Sharon as they…

CHAPTER 67
Kate woke up stiff and yet content at the same time. She didn’t…

CHAPTER 68
Sizemore opened the door with a beer in one hand and attitude…

CHAPTER 69
“I think you should have stayed with Sizemore,” Sam said to Kate…

CHAPTER 70
Kate shifted against the wall and wondered how long it took to arrest…

CHAPTER 71
Kate sat on a hunter-green leather couch and watched Sam walk in…

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

BY ELIZABETH LOWELL

CREDITS

ABOUT THE PUBLISHER

Sanibel, Florida

November

Lee Mandel spent a lot of time
looking over his shoulder. It came with the job. But as he stretched contentedly in the February sun, he wasn’t thinking about watching his back. He was smiling at the server who had the lithe body and optimism only people under thirty could manage.

“Hey, you
sure
you’ve got the best shrimp on Sanibel Island?” Lee teased.

“You bet your ass, sir.”

Lee laughed and waved off the server. “I’ll have the usual. And coffee as fast as your big feet can manage. Oh, and bring a couple extra to-go bags, okay?”

The young man grinned, reached behind his back, and pulled out two white paper bags with the café’s SoupOr Shrimp logo printed in bright red down the side.

“These do?” He dropped them in front of Lee. “I grabbed them as soon as I saw you coming up the stairs.”

Uneasiness snaked through Lee. He was becoming predictable. In his business that was not only stupid, it was dangerous. But he hadn’t seen anyone following him when he drove over the bridges
from the mainland to Sanibel Island. Besides, once the contents of the courier packet were transferred to a wrinkled takeout bag, no one would suspect what Lee knew for a fact: the gems were worth a million, minimum. Wholesale.

In the future, he’d use something even less noticeable, maybe a brown paper bag like the winos. Usually the couriers who were carrying unique goods didn’t have to worry as much as the guys carrying watches and engagement rings.

Usually, but not always.

For the last few years there had been rumors of a new gang working, one that targeted only the very highest end of portable and valuable goods. The good news was that the gang wasn’t as rough as the South Americans. The new boys were slick and quiet.

The server and his tight butt disappeared back into the dark, smoky café, leaving Lee alone to enjoy the winter sun. He shifted his chair so that his back was to the wall of the building and wondered what his sister, Kate, was doing now that she’d finished cutting and polishing the Seven Sins. Probably she was getting ready to hit the gem show circuit again and see if she could find some rough that would repay her time and effort to cut it.

Maybe if Mom and Dad let up on the grandchild subject, she’d slow down and find a good man. As it is, they’re driving her nuts as surely as they drove me.

Guilt whispered through him. He should tell his parents. He really should, especially now that he’d found the man he wanted to spend his life with. He just didn’t want the crap that would come after he came out of the closet, the tears and the where-did-we-go-wrong questions.

His parents hadn’t gone wrong. He just wasn’t the son they’d expected. End of sad story.

Conversation floated around Lee. Some of it came from the open-air ground-level parking lot directly under him. Nearly everything on Sanibel Island was built on stilts. When the hurricanes came, most of the mess just washed through underneath the buildings, leaving the higher living quarters more or less intact.

“But I
want
to see the
treasure
!”

The young girl’s voice was high, stubborn, and all too clear as she emerged from a car out in the sunstruck parking lot that tourists invariably chose. Lee smiled slightly at the idea of sizzling upholstery and steering wheels too hot to hold, and he wondered if the snow-birds were afraid of the shadows between the pillars holding up the small shopping center.

“We saw the Atocha stuff last year. Big deal.” The parental voice was frayed and impatient. “All they want to do in that so-called museum is sell overpriced pieces of eight to the next sucker coming through the door.”

“I don’t
care
. I want to see the gold coins and
emeralds
.”

Lee tuned out the girl’s whine even as he wondered what she would say if she saw the seven extraordinary sapphires that were locked in the trunk of his car. Most of the time he didn’t know what he was carrying in the anonymous packets he took from point A to point B for various courier companies, including the one his family owned. He enjoyed the freedom of being freelance. On this job, he just happened to be the son of the company’s owner and the brother of the cutter, so he knew what the Seven Sins were and how much they were worth.

Kate had been so excited about being commissioned to cut the extra fine quality sapphire rough that she’d called him and described the stones to him the way he’d describe a lover. He’d visited her twice in Arizona and been amazed at the progress from shapeless, dull bluish stone to exquisitely faceted gems that burned with an extraordinary blue color.

He’d enjoyed watching Kate’s excitement. For once it had seemed like she was years younger than he was, instead of eight years older. Not that he blamed her for being thrilled. It was a real coup for a relatively young cutter to score a high-end job like the rough from Arthur McCloud, one of the foremost collectors of gemstones in the world. She’d even asked that Lee courier the rough to her and then courier the cut and polished Seven Sins back to McCloud. Keeping it in the family, as it were.

Squinting against the sun, Lee stared at the modest watch strapped to his left wrist. Quarter of eleven. Plenty of time. From the café, it was maybe fifteen minutes over a small bridge connecting Sanibel and Captiva islands. With luck he’d have an hour after he dropped off the stones on Captiva to go shelling on the falling tide and still make his flight out of Fort Myers to Los Angeles. On Friday, ninety percent of the traffic would be heading over the bridges into Sanibel; he’d be going the opposite direction. It should be an easy drive all the way in to the airport.

He stretched again. In his shorts, golf shirt, and sandals, he blended right in with the rest of the population. Not too tall. Not too short. Not too fat. Not too tan. Not too anything. Couriers were as anonymous as their parcels. If he’d been in Manhattan, he would have worn a dark suit and charcoal overcoat. Seattle would have required a high-tech rain jacket and a cup of espresso mounted permanently in one hand. No umbrella. No one in the Pacific NorthWet bothered.

The faint sound of a car responding to the call of an electronic key disturbed Lee. He sat upright and mentally reviewed the cars he’d seen when he parked in the lot just beneath him, near the stairway. Except for his white rental car, there hadn’t been any close to the stairs.

Most of the shops opened at eleven, and that was twenty minutes away. The only other vehicles he’d noticed were parked well to the back, away from the stairs. The cars and light trucks almost certainly belonged to employees following orders to make it easy for the paying customers to park close to the stairs leading to the shops.

He stood and glanced over the railing to the ground one story below. No one. The whining girl and her family had gone inside the café, apparently preferring smoke to fresh air. For the moment, he was as alone as anyone ever was in the winter tourist mecca of Sanibel Island.

From beneath him came the muffled thump of a trunk closing.

Frowning, he hurried down the stairs. The transition from full
Florida sunlight to the full-shade gloom of the parking lot made him hesitate. He glanced quickly around the area.

Nothing moved in the cool shadows.

Telling himself he was being paranoid, Lee crossed quickly to his car. He punched the electronic key and unlocked the trunk.

It was empty.

“Son of a bitch!”

Frantically he leaned in and felt around. Smaller than his palm, worth more than he would make in a lifetime, the package holding the Seven Sins could have shifted, maybe fallen into the wheel well.

They have to be here.

From the darkness beyond the car came a slight scuff, as though someone was trying to sneak past him to the bright sun. At least it seemed like sneaking until he spun around and saw a familiar face.

Relieved, he smiled and said, “Hey, I didn’t expect to see you on this coast.”

“You shouldn’t have seen me at all.”

There was a soft sound, then a grunt as a bullet slammed through flesh and bone to Lee’s heart. He collapsed into the trunk.

This can’t be happening.

But it was. The world was spinning away and he wasn’t part of it anymore, color swirling down to black.

Norm…Katie…can you hear me? I love…

The trunk slammed down, hiding death.

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