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Authors: Pamela Palmer

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BOOK: The Dark Gate
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“No. I shot him, but…” His razor-sharp gaze cut to hers. “Why did you call him an albino?”

“What would you call someone that white?”

His eyes narrowed dangerously. “And just how do you know his skin's that white?”

Larsen stared at him, too late realizing her mistake. She wasn't supposed to have seen him except for the security video. And the man had never turned around. She'd known it was him from his hair and his odd clothes.
But not his skin.

Damn, damn, damn. “That hair…” Her voice cracked and she cleared it. “I just assumed…”

“He's white. Pure unadulterated white. Total absence of color except for his eyes.” His own eyes glittered ominously. “There's no way in hell you could know that from that piece-of-crap tape.” He veered toward her.

“Jack…” Her heart pounded at the stupidity of her slip.

He stopped a hand breadth away from her, but didn't grab her this time, as if he didn't trust himself. His eyes were no longer burning with fury, but with something far more dangerous.

“You are going to tell me the truth, Larsen,” he said with deadly softness. “
All
of it. Right now. Or I'm going to haul your ass to the station and lock you up until you decide to talk. I'm through playing games, lady.”

She couldn't tell him how she knew. She couldn't.
Ever.

She forced herself to meet his gaze without flinching, to stare into blue eyes as rigid as the steel bars of a prison. “I've told you all I can, Jack.”

The planes of his face hardened. “Then I'm taking you in for questioning.” He reached for her, then stopped midmotion, his body going rigid.
“Hide.”

“What?” But then she heard it, too. A commotion out front.

A shout. A child's cry of pain. Running feet.


Hide,
Larsen!”

He spun away, leaving her staring after him, shaking, as he pulled the gun from his waistband and ran for the front door.

She had to get out of here. She had to get away from him. He knew too much, or suspected too much. Either way, if he hauled her into that police station, she'd never come out again. Not whole.

As she started for the bedroom, Jack wrenched the door open, revealing a young, dark-skinned girl standing on the porch, a smaller child lying at her feet. Larsen stopped, recognizing the kids Jack had been playing ball with that day at the marina. Was it only three days ago?

“What happened?” Jack demanded as he bent and scooped up the boy.

Words spilled out of the girl's mouth in a quivering rush. “There were two little bald people trying to see in your windows.”

Larsen's eyes widened.
Her archer.

Jack ushered the girl into the house.

“He shot me,” the boy said as Jack kicked the door shut, then turned to lock it despite his full arms.

“Where, David?” Jack strode to the sofa and deposited the child gently. “Show me.”

The boy lifted his shirt to show an unblemished expanse of brown tummy.

Jack nodded. He speared Larsen with his gaze as he rose. “I'm going after them. Lock the door behind me, then get David and Sabrina in the bathroom where they can't get shot.”

“Jack—”

But he was already heading out the door. Larsen stared at the closing door, the blood pounding in her ears. She could leave. For the first time in two days, she was without a jailer.

Behind her, the little boy whimpered. Larsen shook her head. She locked the door as Jack instructed and helped David into the bathroom, the only room without a window. Sabrina followed and perched on the edge of the tub. David curled up on the rug, holding his stomach, tears in his eyes.

Larsen knelt beside him. “It still hurts?”

He nodded, tears sliding down his cheeks to drip on the rug. “He shot me.”

“With an arrow?”

“Nah-unh. It was invisible.” His face screwed up in a mask of pain. “He flicked it off his thumb.”

It didn't make any sense. But she couldn't deny his pain, nor the fact that nothing about this nightmare had made any sense from the beginning. She was all too afraid the little bald people had come after
her.
Why had they attacked the children?

Larsen had badly misjudged the cancer girl. She'd appeared so fragile when Larsen had first seen her in the church. Sweet.

“What are
you
doing here?” Sabrina asked sharply.

Larsen looked up and met the teen's glare. She was a pretty girl, though Larsen didn't much care for the look in her eyes.

“I'm a guest of Jack's.”

“Why?” Dark eyes flashed with unfriendliness.

Larsen watched the girl with interest. She knew jealousy when she saw it and decided to answer truthfully. “One of those little bald people shot me with an arrow Monday night. Jack's a cop. He brought me here to keep me safe until he caught her.”

“She followed
you,
then. It's your fault David got hurt.”

“It's not my fault.”

“It's not my fault either! David shouldn't have yelled at them.”

The girl's sudden defensiveness took Larsen by surprise.

The teen's face crumpled, tears welling in her eyes. “My dad's going to be so mad.”

“He told her…” David began, then gripped his stomach and grimaced. “He told her not to leave the house without him or Mom. But she wouldn't listen.”

“It's Jack's birthday,” Sabrina said through lips tensed and trembling. “We always surprise him on his birthday.”

“Maybe you should have sent him a card,” Larsen murmured.

The girl stared at her, then began to cry in earnest.

Larsen sighed. “Sabrina, please don't cry. It won't help anything.” But she might as well have been talking to the sink. She rose and went to stand in the open doorway where she might hear Jack when he returned. Finally the rap sounded on the front door.

“Larsen, open up. It's me.”

She hurried to the door and let Jack in. “Did you catch them?”

“No.” He met her gaze for one brittle moment, his eyes revealing a wealth of anger…and a deep vein of hurt. He brushed past her and went to the bathroom where Sabrina still cried. The bathroom where she'd experienced the most amazing kiss of her life.

She followed him and stood in the doorway, watching him kneel beside David, his dark head bent with concern. Whatever had been growing between them was gone. There would be no more kisses. No more sexy smiles. No more warm arms holding her through the night. All that was left between them was blame and anger and guilt. A fist-size lump of regret lodged in her chest. If only things could have been different. If only
she
were different.

If only she were normal. But she wasn't and she had to get away from Jack and his cops before they figured that out, even if it meant risking another arrow.

While Jack comforted the children, Larsen walked to the bedroom and closed the door, then grabbed her purse. As she eased open the window, the doorbell rang. She tensed until she heard the deep rumble of a second male voice and knew the kids' dad had arrived.

“Goodbye, Jack,” she whispered, then slipped out the window and escaped into the night.

Chapter 6

T
he night air crackled with malevolence. Threat danced on the humid breeze, raking its nails down Jack's spine while mounting questions pricked his skin, itching like new wool. Never in his life had he felt so off balance. He'd dealt with rapists before, and murderers. With thieves and car-jackers and gang-bangers. But never had he faced anyone like this—a villain whose powers and abilities defied logic. How in the hell could a man hypnotize cops with a song? One measly song.

The voices in his head surged as Jack paced the walk in front of his row house, gun at his side, watching Henry load his family into the minivan. His gaze darted up and down the street, searching for sign of the little bald bastards who'd attacked David.

What in the hell had they done to him?

“Tomorrow, man,” Henry called with a wave as the van started down the street.

Jack lifted his hand. He hated mysteries. And damned if he wasn't mired in the stickiest of them. Only one person could get him out of this one. Larsen. She knew something. And she was damn well going to tell him what it was.
Now.

Once the van turned the corner, he retraced his steps into his ground floor apartment in the row house and locked the door behind him. Tensed and ready for a showdown, he strode toward his bedroom, the squeak of his damp soles on the wood floor the only sound in the silent apartment.

Jack pounded on the closed door with the heel of his fist, the sound echoed by the rise of noise in his head, as if the party in his brain had been crashed by yet another dozen revelers. The voices were multiplying. Just what he needed.

“Larsen, open up!”

He longed to take her hand and lose himself in the silence, to pretend he didn't suspect her of sending him to Tony Jingles, of sending him into that death trap. To pretend she wasn't involved in this case up to those finely arched brows.

But he needed answers and he needed them now, even though forcing her hand surely meant forfeiting her quieting touch and, ultimately, his sanity.

Misery weighted his shoulders as he pounded again. “Dammit, Larsen, open this door or I'll kick it in.” A truck rumbled by out front but, oddly, the sound seemed to reverberate loudest from inside his bedroom. His eyes narrowed. She'd opened a window.

Damn.
He grabbed for the key on top of the door frame and unlocked the door to find the window wide open.
They'd taken her.
But then his gaze took in the screen propped against the
inside
wall.

“Larsen?”

Nothing. The little fool. She knew there were archers looking for her. The next arrow might not pierce her shoulder, but something far more vital.

The ramifications of that thought hit him square in the gut. She preferred to take her chances with the archers than with him. And what did
that
say about her innocence?

He crossed the room and leaned out the window. No sign of her. With a quick tug, he shut the window, then grabbed his keys and ran for his car. He didn't know how deep she was into this thing, but at the moment he didn't care. All he wanted was to know that she was safe. And that meant finding her before whoever was trying to kill her.

 

Larsen curled up in the small upholstered chair by the hotel window and stared out at the gleaming lights of Crystal City, Virginia, across the Potomac River from her home and her life. And Jack. She should feel relieved to be away from him and his questions and accusations. Instead, all she felt was lonely. And scared.

The musical ring of her cell phone cut through the noisy rumble of the air conditioner. Larsen grabbed it from the table and glanced at the Caller ID.

Jack.

Indecision pulled her in two as the music filled the room. She wanted to talk to him, just to hear his voice. But she knew she'd sealed her guilt in his eyes by running away. There would be no pleasant conversation between them, just more anger and accusations.

Besides, she was afraid if she answered he might be able to pinpoint her location, which might lead to her being picked up for questioning. No, answering a cop's call was definitely not a smart move for a woman officially on the run.

The ring tone continued unabated, clawing at her nerves until she couldn't stand it any longer and shoved the phone under the mattress to muffle the sound.

Finally the ringing stopped. Loneliness swept over her. His strength and warm arms were lost to her now. She didn't dare contact him again, at least not until this was over. And by then, there would be no reason to. For now she was trapped in her solitude, unable to go home. Life as she knew it was lost to her until the albino's reign of terror came to an end.

It was all up to Jack. There was nothing more for her to do but to wait it out and pray Jack caught the guy soon.

Larsen got ready for bed and was brushing her teeth when her vision suddenly went black.

No. Not again.

Pain split her head as the premonition swept her away.

She was in a theater this time, a place she recognized well. The Kennedy Center with its opulent gilt decor, the blood-red carpeting and atmospheric lighting. The theater was full, teeming with kids. A matinee. She vaguely remembered hearing an advertisement on the radio for a reduced-price matinee of
The Lion King
with the proceeds going to some children's foundation. Thursday. The special presentation was Thursday.

Tomorrow.

As she watched, the lights in the theater dimmed. After a short, dramatic pause, the heavy curtains opened to reveal a set right out of the African savannah. The musical began and, just as suddenly, stopped, the actors relaxing their poses as if the director had called for a break, then going still, frozen in place.

In the middle of the orchestra seats, a man rose. An all-too familiar man with white skin and white hair. The only other movement in the packed theater came from two young children several rows in front of him, a little girl of about six dressed in a pink sundress, her white-blond hair in a single, curly ponytail, and a boy a couple years older who was bouncing on his seat like an escaped jack-in-the-box.

As one, the pair turned to look at the albino, their eyes wide and curious. The man sitting between them, an older version of the little boy, turned, as well.

What happened next was almost a blur in the darkened theater. The audience rose and attacked the small family while the albino grabbed the young woman who'd been sitting beside him and raped her.

As the vision faded, Larsen's gaze focused on one last, horrible sight. Draped across the back of one of the seats lay the lifeless body of the little girl, facedown, her white-blond pony tail hanging from a small head cocked at an impossible angle.

Larsen came back to herself, sitting on the bathroom floor, the toothbrush still in her mouth. She lurched to her feet, tossed the toothbrush into the sink and lunged for the toilet, losing most of her dinner. When her stomach was empty, she sat on the cold tile and leaned her head back against the wall, her body quaking, her eyes squeezed tight against the awful memory.

No more.
Please, no more.

Tears slid down her cheeks and she buried her face in her hands. Why would he kill children?
Children?

Because he hadn't been able to control them. Like Jack and her and the woman at Tony Jingles and the man who'd died at the wedding, he hadn't been able to control them. So he'd killed them.

No. He
would
kill them. Unless she stopped him.

Angry determination crowded out the horror and helplessness swirling inside her. She could do this. She could stop him as she had before. But how? She'd nearly gotten Jack killed today and nearly gotten herself hauled in for questioning.

She struggled to her feet, rinsed her mouth and crawled into bed, praying something would come to her as she slept. She needed a plan. A brilliant plan.

And the courage to see it through.

 

The ruckus in his head grew worse by the day. Jack pressed his fingers into his scalp as he lay on his back in bed, longing for a single moment's respite from the din.

If he'd never met Larsen Vale, he wouldn't know what he was missing. He'd never have experienced the relief of a moment's quiet. Or the delight of an angel's laughter.

Where was she?

He lowered his hands and glanced at the red read-out of the digital clock beside his bed: 2:42 a.m. The night was slipping away, but he was no closer to quieting his thoughts than when he'd gone to bed.

Where was she?

He grabbed his cell phone and punched the redial button. “Answer, Larsen,” he murmured in between rings. “Answer the damned phone.”

But like before, the voice that came over the line was cool and stilted. “I'm not available to take your call. Please…”

Jack's hand convulsed and he slammed the phone onto the beside table, sending the battery careening onto the floor. He collapsed onto his back, his arm across his eyes as fear overwhelmed him.

The small control he'd maintained over his life was slipping away, the voices in his head getting worse every minute. His partner had tried to kill him. The one woman who could light the darkness of his mind was gone.

With a punch of his pillow, he rolled onto his stomach and sank his face into the cool cotton. Larsen's scent filled his nostrils. Longing twisted him in knots. If he just knew she was all right he could deal with the rest, even if he never saw her again. But he was afraid he'd never find her if she didn't want to be found. His only choice was to focus on catching that white son of a bitch before he hurt anyone else. Before he got Larsen.

And hope he wasn't already too late.

 

Larsen stood under the hot shower spray, letting the droplets pelt her with a thousand stinging blows, begging the near-scalding water to wash away the horror that filled her mind.

Over and over, the scene played out in her head. The family destroyed, that little blond ponytail hanging as still as its owner.

Larsen turned the water temperature down and shoved her face under the spray, washing away the tears that burned her eyes. More than anything in the world, she wanted to forget what she'd seen and let Jack solve this case on his own. But he didn't know the albino would be at the Kennedy Center this afternoon.

And she did.

She turned off the water and grabbed a worn, white bath towel. If she took the Metro back into D.C. before she called him, he wouldn't be able to trace her to Virginia. She could claim to be in the Kennedy Center, tell him she'd seen the albino, and let him take it from there.

Safe. Certain. Risk-free.

The perfect plan.

 

Nothing ever went as planned.

Larsen paced beneath the soaring ceilings of the crowded Kennedy Center lobby, listening to Jack's answering machine for the fourteenth time. Why wasn't he answering his phone?

The silk scarf she'd bought in the gift store slipped as she tucked the phone into her purse. She grabbed the scarf and adjusted it to hide her hair. It didn't precisely go with the crop pants and T-shirt she'd picked up at the store this morning, but in this international city, a woman with head covering rarely garnered a second glance.

Larsen was counting on it. She knew the albino would show. If he recognized her….

The memory of her own death beneath the feet of Veronica's wedding guests ripped through her mind like talons through soft flesh, immobilizing her.
She couldn't do this.
But the vision of that small girl, her head bent at an impossible angle, shoved aside the other and she knew she could.
She had to. Someone
had to save that family.

Larsen eased behind a large potted fern and scanned for sign of the oddly dressed albino, the bald archer or the little girl in the pink sundress. Moments later, her eyes caught the flash of pink. Her heart lodged in her throat.

The father from her visions, a nice-looking, thirty-some-thing businessman in a shirt and tie, walked between the two towheaded children. The little girl, her curly ponytail swinging, held the man's hand while the boy, a bundle of barely suppressed energy, darted ahead toward the short flight of stairs leading to the ticket-taker.

Larsen took a step toward them and stopped as the cold reality of what she needed to do washed over her. It wasn't enough to warn them not to go into the theater. She had to tell them why.
I'm a freak who sees death. And I've seen yours.

She couldn't do it.

She
had
to do it, or those kids and their dad were going to die!

The breath froze in her lungs, the blood turned to slush in her veins.

Do it!
But her feet wouldn't move.

BOOK: The Dark Gate
3.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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