Authors: Pamela Palmer
nÂ oÂ cÂ tÂ uÂ rÂ nÂ e
To my parents, Stew and Pat Palmer,
for believing I could be anything I wishedâ¦
and for raising me to believe
If I were to list all the people who've helped me get to this placeâthe publication of my first bookâthe acknowledgments would rival the novel for sheer number of pages. So, in an effort to save the pages for the story, I want to thank a few special people who have made all the difference. Laurin Wittig, Kathryn Caskie, Denise McInerney, Elizabeth Holcolme, Ann Shaw Moran and Sophia Nash for their critiques, advice, encouragement and unyielding support. My husband and kids for always being there to celebrate the joys. The Mom's Book Club, who cheered me on every step of the way and were waiting with bottles of champagne when the dream came true. And last, though never least, my agent, Helen Breitwieser, and my editors, Ann Leslie Tuttle and Tara Gavin, for taking a chance and opening the door to a dream. My heartfelt thanks.
hree assaults in five days, more than a dozen bystanders and no one remembers a thing.
How in the hell is he doing it?
Metropolitan Police Detective Jack Hallihan paced the aft deck of the small cabin cruiser docked on the Potomac River in downtown Washington, D.C., his steps echoing his frustration. A jet roared overhead, making its final approach into Reagan National, while the summer sun beat down on the back of his neck, sending sweat rolling between his shoulder blades. He was running out of time.
“He's gotta be knocking 'em out, Jack.” Duke Robinson, a fellow detective and the wiry dark-skinned owner of the boat, tipped his baseball cap to shield his eyes from the afternoon sun even as his head turned, his gaze following the progress of a pair of young women strolling down the dock in bikini tops and short-shorts. “What's up, ladies?”
The voices in Jack's head surged suddenly, unintelligible voices that filled his head night and day, and had for as long as he could remember. He clenched his teeth and dug his fingers into his dark hair, pressing his fingers to his scalp, trying to quiet the ceaseless chatter, if only a little.
“You okay, man?” Henry Jefferson, Jack's partner of ten years, eyed him with concern from the second deck chair as he rolled a cold Budweiser across a forehead several shades darker than Duke's. Henry was as tall as Jack, but no longer lean. Too many years of his wife, Mei's, fried egg rolls had softened him around the middle. There was nothing soft about the gaze he leveled on Jack. “You need to see someone about those headaches of yours.”
Jack snatched his hand from his head.
The last thing he needed was to bring attention to his worsening condition. No one knew he suffered from the same madness that destroyed his father. If he had his way, no one ever would.
“It's just the heat,” he told his friend. If only. He'd be happy if they were just headaches. Sometimes he felt as though he lived in the middle of a raucous party that never ended, a party where everyone spoke Bulgarian, or Mongolian, or some other language he would never understand. Usually he could tamp down the noise so it didn't overwhelm his mind, like moving the party into the next room. But the past couple of weeks the voices had been all but shouting in his ears. It was starting to scare the shit out of him.
He pulled the discussion back to the problem at hand, a mysterious rapist terrorizing the Dupont Circle neighborhood of D.C. “In each of the three cases, multiple victims were knocked unconscious by some unknown means to awaken simultaneously a short while laterâestimated at anywhere from fifteen to thirty minutes. In each case, one young woman among them woke to find her clothing partially removed and blood and semen between her legs. In each case, no one, including the assault victim, remembered anything to help us identify the attacker and solve this case.”
“It makes no sense,” Duke said. “How is he knocking them out before they ever get a look at him?”
“We need those tox reports,” Jack said. “He's got to be using some kind of gas or drug.”
The muscle in Henry's jaw visibly tightened. “I want him
before he hurts another girl. The last assault victim was just eighteen years old. Barely more than a kid.”
Henry's own daughter, Sabrina, was only a handful of years younger. She and her brother were belowdeck even now. Henry wasn't leaving her home alone. He wasn't taking any chances. Jack didn't blame him a bit.
“And what does the theft at the Smithsonian have to do with all this?” Henry wondered out loud. During the first attack, an ancient stone amulet had been stolen.
“What did you find out about this
Stone of Ezrie?
” he asked his friend. But Duke's gaze was firmly fixed on a well-endowed woman making her way along the dock.
Henry gave Duke's shoulder a hard slug. “Stay in the game, man. We want to know what you learned.”
Duke released a frustrated sigh. “It's Sunday. Even cops need a day off.”
“Not when girls are being attacked,” Henry said.
“Yeah, okay.” Duke pulled out his wallet and removed a small paper photo.
“The Stone of Ezrie.”
Jack took the piece of paper and held it for Henry to see. The photo revealed a sky-blue, teardrop-shaped stone hanging from a simple silver chain. Engraved on the surface of the stone was a seven-point star.
“Why would anyone want this thing?” Henry asked, echoing Jack's own thoughts. “What kind of rock is it, anyway?”
Duke shrugged. “Nothing valuable. The Smithsonian dude didn't know why anyone would steal it. There were better things all around. The only thing this rock has going for it is some quack legend. Something about it being the key that opens the gates to Ezrie.”
Henry lifted a thick brow. “What's Ezrie?”
“Don't know. It's all bogus, man. Prime bogus. There ain't no way to solve this case or to catch the perp until the son of a bitch screws up and leaves us a witness or clue. We've been over everything a dozen times.” Duke reached for another beer. “
need a day off, even if you two don't. So no more talk about work. How 'bout them Nationals, huh?”
Jack took a long drink of Coke, letting it fizz on his tongue as impatience boiled under his skin. He didn't have time for talk of baseball. He'd managed to push the voices back, but for how long? How much longer until he couldn't control them at all?
He had to solve this case while he still had the mental strength to do it, before the voices became too much to bear and he ended up like his dadâan alcoholic with a gun in his mouth and his brains decorating the living room wall.
The silken sound of a woman's laughter yanked him out of his dark musings, stealing every thought from his head. His gaze snapped to the houseboat in the next slip as a tall, slender blonde in nice pants and a trim sleeveless sweater emerged from the door of the boat, holding a cell phone to her ear. She was laughing as she stepped outside, her chin-length hair glowing golden in the summer sunshine.
Jack swallowed. “Who's that?”
“Larsen Vale. Bleeding-heart lawyer and Ice Bitch extraordinaire. Forget about her. She don't give it up for no man.” Duke's words were too loud for the small distance between the boats, but he didn't seem to care.
The woman glanced up. The laughter drained from her features as though someone had pulled a plug. All emotion fled. Her gaze slid over the men, one after the other, as if they were nothing more than inanimate objects unworthy of her noticeâ¦until her gaze slammed into Jack's. His heart bucked in his chest, a physical jolt like he'd been sucker punched. She held his gaze, then dropped it, shattering it as she turned away.
She clicked her cell phone closed and started across the boat's narrow deck with quick, confident strides, a briefcase swinging at her side. Without another glance his way, she hopped lightly onto the dock and strode away.
Jack exhaled. “Wow.”
“She's cold, dude,” Duke insisted. “Ice cold. Don't waste your time.”
“Dad.” Henry's ten-year-old son, David, ran up the stairs from below, making enough noise for three kids despite his slight build. “When are we sailing?”
“You don't sail a motorboat, moron.” His sister, Sabrina, flounced up the stairs behind him.
“Sorry, you two. We're not taking the boat out,” Henry told his kids. “This is a marina party, not a river cruise.”
“What party?” David asked. “This is boring.”
Jack set his half-empty Coke can on the railing. “Who's up for a walk?” He had too much on his mind to make small talk. If he had to take the afternoon off, he'd rather spend his time with the kids, anyway. He sure as hell wouldn't have any of his own. Not after what his dad had put his own family through.
“Me, Uncle Jack, me,” David exclaimed, jumping up and down. “Can I get the football out of the car, Dad?”
Henry nodded and Jack turned to Sabrina. “You coming, beautiful?” At fourteen, the girl was already showing signs of the heartbreaker she was destined to become. Unlike her brother, she'd inherited a healthy dose of the exotic from her mother's ancestry. Her skin was a light coffee color, her intelligent eyes slightly tilted and her hair silky black as she flicked it behind her back with a toss of her head.
He held his breath, waiting for her reply, wondering if this would be the time she'd finally grown too cool to have anything to do with her “uncle” Jack. But she flashed him a smile full of braces and youthful exuberance, and he knew today wasn't that day. They found a patch of grass in front of the marina to pass the football.
“You suck,” Sabrina shouted as David ran for the ball he'd missed.
suck,” the boy called back, laughing. If there was a natural athlete lurking in the kid somewhere, he had yet to show himself. David grabbed the ball and started running toward them.
Jack held up his hands. “Throw it, pal.” But the boy kept running. Jack laughed, happier out here with these two than he'd been in weeks.
“Throw it, David.” Sabrina waved her hands in the air.
The boy finally heaved the football, getting a nice spiral on it, at last. Unfortunately his aim was off. Way off. The ball sailed directly at the door of the marina office and the woman exiting through itâthe Ice Bitch, Larsen Vale.
Jack cringed as the ball hit her square in the arm, knocking her briefcase out of her hand. The briefcase hit the wall and clattered to the sidewalk, snapping open. Papers spilled everywhere.
She was going to tear the kid to pieces. As David started toward her in his loping run, Jack headed after him, determined to save him from a tongue-lashing that would make his sister's impatient comments sound like sweet nothings.
“Sorry,” David called good-naturedly as he approached the she-devil.
The woman picked up the ball. To Jack's amazement she gave David a rueful smile and cocked her arm as if to throw it.
“Go long,” she told him.
David grinned and started running. The woman threw an admirable pass with only a slight wobble, right into the boy's arms.
“Yesss!” David did his own little version of the touch-down shuffle.
Jack looked at Larsen Vale thoughtfully as she knelt to gather up her papers. He'd heard her name before today. He knew she'd earned herself a reputation for ruthlessness in the courtroom, particularly in defense of women abused by their high-profile husbands. Duke wasn't the only one who called her the Ice Bitch. Yet she'd just been exceedingly kind in a situation that would have provoked most people to anger.
Jack joined her. “Let me give you a hand with those.” He knelt beside her and began picking up the loose papers. He'd thought her attractive on the boat. This close, she was stunning. Her mouth was wide and lush, perfectly framed by a strong, stubborn jaw. Her eyes had a natural, heavy-lidded appearance that was sexy as hell. And her skin was lightly tanned and flawlessly smooth.
Heat tightened things low in his body. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been hit with this kind of lust at first sight. Too bad she was ignoring him.
“Thanks for being patient with David. He's a little careless sometimes.”
She looked up and gave him the same expressionless look she had on the boat. Her eyes were a clear golden-brown beneath a thin layer of frost.
“Were you afraid I'd shatter him with my ice wand?”
Jack winced. So she'd heard Duke's comment. “You had a right to be angry with him. I appreciate your patience.”
She stopped in her gathering and glanced toward the kids. “He was just being a boy.”
“Yeah. I apologize for my friend's rudeness back there, too. His comments were out of line.” Jack tapped the papers he'd collected on the sidewalk to neaten the stack. “He's a little too cocksure of his success with women.” He handed the stack to her and their fingers brushed. A bare slide of flesh on flesh.
Inexplicably the chatter in his head went silent.
For the first time inâ¦
She jerked, dropping the papers. “Damn.”
The voices rushed back as if they'd never left at all. Jack's heart slammed in his chest. Had he imagined it?
She gathered up the last of the papers and put them back in her expensive-looking briefcase. As she started to close the lid, the breeze caught a loose sheet. Jack grabbed for it at the same time she did. Their hands brushed again.
Silence. It was her.
Larsen Vale clicked her briefcase shut and rose. She met his gaze, briefly, as dispassionately as before. “Thanks,” she said, and turned away.
Jack stared after her, stunned.
She'd quieted the voices.