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Authors: Cynthia Eden

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Until Death

BOOK: Until Death
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By Cynthia Eden

This book is a work of fiction. Any similarities to real people, places, or events are not intentional and are purely the result of coincidence. The characters, places, and events in this story are fictional.

Copyright ©2015 by Cindy Roussos

Cover art and design by: Sweet ‘N Spicy Designs

Copy-editing by: JRT Editing

Genres of Interest: Romance, Romantic Suspense, Military Romance, FBI, Detective

Table of Contents
Until Death
Beware Of Me Excerpt
Author’s Note
About The Author
Prologue

The giant sea monster flew down the packed city streets. Its tentacles shot high into the air and its bright green body shone beneath the lights. Screams rose in the air, high, desperate cries of—


Throw me something!”

Ivy DuLane smiled at those cries even as she let loose and threw a handful of gleaming, plastic necklaces into the crowd. The people out there roared even louder as the Mardi Gras parade really kicked into high gear.

Mardi Gras in Mobile.
Damn, but she loved these nights. The Royal Ladies of Poseidon were ruling this town. Her float was rocking as it bobbed its way down the busy street. One of the high school bands marched in front of her sea monster, and the band’s music drifted into the air, merging with the cries from the crowd.

Ivy paused just a moment to adjust the mask that she wore—everyone on the float was wearing a pale, blue mask just like hers. The blue mask covered her eyes and just skimmed the top of her nose. Ivy swayed with the music and her smile stretched.

Energy pumped into the air. Those screams were full of joy and—

“Help me!”

Ivy’s head whipped to the right. She’d just grabbed more Mardi Gras beads from her post, but that cry stilled her hand. Her frantic gaze swept over the crowded street, looking past the barricade that the cops had set up to protect the parade goers.

She saw men and women. Children. They were all talking and laughing. Waving their hands into the air as they tried to catch the throws from the floats.

Behind the crowd, though, darkness waited. Shadows swept away from the street, heading back toward the old buildings. As she stared into those shadows, a shiver swept over Ivy.

The sea monster jerked and her hands flew out as she steadied herself. When the float moved, the crowd parted, just a bit, and she saw the two lovers in the darkness.

The man was behind the woman, one of his arms was wrapped around her waist and his other arm—

A knife glinted in the dark.

They aren’t lovers.

“Stop!” Ivy yelled as she dropped her beads and grabbed onto the side of the float.

The float didn’t stop. The crowd kept yelling. The band played even louder.

The man—he had on a Mardi Gras mask, too. A mask and a tux, as if he were going to one of the Mardi Gras balls—balls that seemed to occur at a near constant rate during this time of the year. The woman was struggling in his arms, her glittering, gold evening gown twisting with her movements. It was that glittering gown that had caught Ivy’s attention. It sparkled so brightly in the dark.

Almost as brightly as the knife in the man’s hand.

“Stop!”
Ivy shouted again. No one was listening to her. “Get away from her!” Ivy yelled to that man out there.

Did he laugh? She couldn’t tell for sure. It seemed that he might be staring right at her.

He plunged the knife into the woman’s side.

“No!” And the parade float wasn’t stopping. The driver down below probably didn’t even hear her. No one seemed to hear her.

There was no choice. Ivy couldn’t just watch the woman die.

The masked man drove the knife into her side again.

Ivy jumped right over the side of her sea monster. When she hit the pavement, she stumbled to her knees and her palms scraped over the pavement. The crowd gasped, no doubt because the people on the floats weren’t supposed to fly off them.

And people in the crowd aren’t supposed to be murdered!

Men and women stared at her in shock as Ivy rushed toward the barricades. She had to get to that woman! She had to help her. Voices were rising behind Ivy. Her friends from the float were shouting her name.

“He’s killing her!” Ivy yelled back. Then she looked at the crowd. “Let me pass! We have to stop him!”

A horse galloped up behind her. She glanced over her shoulder and saw the mounted police officer. “Help me!” Her plea was desperate as she scaled the barricade that had been put up to separate the spectators from the rolling floats. “I saw a man—he was attacking a woman!”

The cop’s face hardened. People nearby weren’t watching the parade any longer. They were watching Ivy and the cop. Ivy finally got over that barricade. She raced toward the spot where that poor woman had been, and she—

Empty.

No one was standing there. No man in a white mask. No woman in a gown that glittered like gold.

Ivy spun around, stunned, lost. Where had they gone? And where was the blood? The knife?

“Ma’am…” A cop grabbed her arm.
Not
the cop who’d been mounted on the horse. Another one. A guy wearing a uniform and sporting a shiny badge near his breast pocket. “Ma’am, what the hell are you doing?”

“I—” She looked around again, but a sea of people surrounded her. The parade was still going. One crazy woman jumping from a float hadn’t stopped it. Screams and music filled the air. “A woman was in trouble,” Ivy tried to explain. “A man was stabbing her.”

The cop’s hold tightened on her arm. “Have you been drinking?” He brought his face in closer to hers. Probably the better to sniff her for the scent of alcohol.

Her back teeth clenched. “Not tonight, I haven’t.” She glared at him. “I saw them! We have to find the woman! She needs help.”

Music boomed from the street.

“She needs help,” Ivy said again as she tried to search through the crowd. “I know what I saw. I know…”

Only there was no victim. There was no attacker. There was nothing.

***

He kept his hand over her sweet mouth. Not that it mattered, not then. She wasn’t fighting anymore. Actually, he didn’t think she was even breathing.

He and his lovely prey were inside the abandoned building, just a few feet away from the cop and the would-be rescuer.

She still had her mask on, but he could see the heavy mass of her dark hair, falling around her shoulders. She was a small woman, petite, almost delicate, but curved in all of the ways that he enjoyed.

A small woman like her—she wouldn’t be able to put up much of a fight.

They never do.

The cop wasn’t buying her story. Through the crack in the boarded-up window, he had a perfect view of the cop—and the woman who’d leapt from that float.

I didn’t expect that move.

She’d seen him. She’d watched while he’d driven the knife into his victim’s tender flesh. No one had watched before.

A little thrill still coursed through him.

She saw me.

But now the uniformed cop was tugging her away from the scene. He was muttering about rich women who drank too much. Everyone knew the people on the floats liked to party during the parade. The cop wouldn’t even check the area. He was just walking away and probably heading off to lock up the brunette.

“See,” he whispered into the dead woman’s ear. “No one gives a damn about you. I was the only one. You should have appreciated me when you had the chance.”

He let her slide down his body. She hit the dirty floor, her gown pooling around her. He bent and wiped his knife on that gown, then he pressed a quick kiss to her lips. She tasted sweet, even in death.

The music and laughter kept coming from outside, calling to him. He put the knife back in its sheath and slipped outside. He made sure to secure the back door—it wouldn’t do for someone to stumble onto his prize—then he hurried around the side of the building, following the cop and the interesting new lady. His gaze slid to the lady in the blue mask. She was yanking against the cop’s hold and demanding that he launch a search of the area.

She was interesting. He’d like to see her without that mask.

His hand lifted and he touched his own mask.

Would you like to see me?

The cop moved faster, the crowd clearing for him. The crowd…they were clueless. You could do so much right in front of them, and they never knew.

He kept to the shadows and he followed that cop and that very interesting new prey.

He hadn’t planned to hunt again, not so soon, but this one…this woman was going to be special.

He could feel it, and now, he understood so very much.

I might just let you see me…all of me.

Chapter One

“Causing trouble again?”

Ivy froze at that deep, rumbling voice. A voice that she usually only heard in her dreams—those really hot ones that came late at night.

“Drunk and disorderly conduct,” that sexy voice continued and she could feel tension gathering between her shoulder blades. “And did you seriously jump
off
a float in the middle of a parade? Don’t they teach you not to do things like that in manners school?”

She turned away from the uniformed cop—the jerk who was seriously trying to get her into the back of a patrol car—and faced this new threat. Because, yes, that was how she always thought of Detective Bennett Morgan.
Threat. Danger.
But in this instance, he could be her way out. Because if the fresh-faced uniform succeeded in his dumb plan to send her down to the drunk tank, her night was screwed.

“I’m not drunk,” Ivy said. There was no way she could keep the heat from her voice. Fury rode her too hard.
A woman was attacked! No one is doing anything!
“I’ve said the alphabet backwards twice now, I’ve touched my nose with my fingers a dozen times, and I’ve walked in the straightest line in the world.” Her voice shook with fury. “I saw a woman being attacked. I tried to
help
,” she emphasized heavily. “My only crime was being a good Samaritan.” And for that, the young cop wanted to toss her in jail. Not cool.

Bennett stalked toward her. A streetlight fell on him, revealing the hard planes of his face. Bennett wasn’t traditionally handsome. No, he was far too rough for that. Rough and wild with his thick, slightly long, blond hair and those deep, brooding eyes of his. She couldn’t see the emerald green shade of his gaze at that moment, but she’d never been able to forget that color. Bennett’s jaw was square, a faint cleft marked the center of his chin, and his high cheekbones gave the guy a wild edge.

An edge that she would
not
be exploring. At least, not right then.

She’d had a rather unhealthy attraction to Bennett since she was eighteen years old. Their time apart—all of those years—should have dimmed that attraction. It hadn’t. She looked at him, and that same sensual awareness flared within her.

Don’t let him see it. Don’t.

She lifted her cuffed hands and she moved closer to him. Bennett might be many things, not all of them good, but he
was
the Mobile Police Department’s golden boy of the moment. The big, bad, new hotshot detective who’d come to town a month ago. So maybe the hotshot could assist her. “Bennett, please, talk to the guy. Help me.”

His hand brushed down her arm. She hated that his touch seemed to scorch right to her soul. He shouldn’t still affect her that way. But he did.

Damn him.

Bennett’s gaze raked over her. “Officer Chambliss,” he said, referring to the cop who was all too eager to toss her into a drunk tank some place and forget about her. “You know who this woman is, right? Senator DuLane’s daughter?”

Her eyes squeezed closed. Was Bennett really trying to ruin her night or what? Now she’d be in jail
and
on the scandal page of the local paper. Mentioning her father wasn’t going to help anything. The guy was dead and buried, and before he’d been put in the ground, he’d wrecked more than his share of lives.

Maybe that was why Bennett mentioned him. To remind me that he hasn’t forgotten.

Or forgiven.

“Did you give her a breathalyzer?” Bennett asked as he tilted his head to the side.

“Y-yes, of course!” The redheaded cop said quickly.

“Is she drunk?”

“Not legally,” Officer Chambliss was forced to admit, “but…you should have seen her dive off that float!”

“I wish I had,” Bennett muttered.

Ivy glared at him.

“Someone could’ve been hurt,” the young cop blustered. “Someone could’ve—”

“If she’s not legally drunk, then we can’t hold her.” Bennett’s voice was as mild-as-you-please. “Trust me on this, buddy, you don’t want the headache that she will bring your way. Not when you’re still new to the force.”

She held her breath. Hoping. Praying—

“I’ll take care of her,” Bennett offered. His badge was clipped to his belt, gleaming dully. Other than the badge, he didn’t look like a cop at all. He just wore jeans, a loose shirt, and a rather battered looking coat. “I’ll make sure that she doesn’t jump off anymore floats tonight.”

Officer Chambliss hesitated.

The stupid cuffs bit into her wrists. She was wearing her Royal Ladies of Poseidon outfit, a thin bit of silk and lace that barely skimmed the top of her thighs. Sure, she had on tights, but the get-up was supposed to be seen from the perch of a float, not all up-close and personal. Ivy felt way too exposed, especially with Bennett’s gaze raking over her.

“She won’t cause any more trouble,” Bennett said. “I promise you that.”

He shouldn’t make promises that he couldn’t keep. Bennett didn’t know her well, not anymore. She excelled at trouble. She wasn’t the good girl he remembered. Not even close.

That girl was long gone. Being good didn’t solve problems. Taking risks—finding danger—that was the way to get the job done.

But the uniformed cop nodded and the guy actually freed her from the cuffs. Ivy exhaled on a harsh sigh of relief. It wouldn’t have been her first visit to the jail—unfortunately—but she was very glad she wouldn’t be returning that night.

“She’s your problem now,” Officer Chambliss growled then he turned and climbed into the driver’s seat of his patrol car.

Ivy glared after him. “I’m not a problem! I’m a person! You aren’t any kind of—”

Bennett snagged her wrist and pulled her toward him. “If you antagonize him, you
will
find that sweet ass of yours tossed into the patrol car.” His fingers slid over her inner wrist. “Were the cuffs too tight?”

Her pulse raced beneath his touch, and Ivy tried to jerk her hand away. Bennett shook his head and kept his hold on her.

“I have to look for the woman,” Ivy told him quickly. “I don’t know what you heard about what happened tonight—”

“I heard you jumped off a float.”

She rolled her eyes. “I saw a man, okay? A masked man with a knife. He was stabbing a woman who was wearing a gold evening gown.”

He kept rubbing her wrist.

“Stop it,” she ordered, refusing to be shaken by him or his touch. “This is important! I think—I think the woman may be dead.”

He let her go.

Ivy swallowed and tried to settle her nerves. Bennett was the lead homicide detective in the area. If anyone could help her, it would be him. “Please.” And she
never
begged him, but she was begging right then. “I’m not crazy. I’m not drunk. A woman was hurt tonight, and I’m afraid he killed her while the crowd just cheered around him.”

He searched her face. She stared back at him, her whole body tense.

Then Bennett swore. “Shit. Show me, now.”

She nodded quickly and spun on her heel. Bennett would get to the bottom of this nightmare. He was a good cop, even if he did have a tendency to piss her off way too much. Piss her off, turn her on, far too many things that she couldn’t think about in that chaotic moment. She’d taken about four steps when he grabbed her and pulled her back.

“Bennett—”

He put a coat around her shoulders. His coat.

She blinked up at him. They were all the way down in Mobile, Alabama, right on the Gulf Coast, so it wasn’t as if they were experiencing arctic conditions, but the night was definitely crisp. She could feel his warmth, clinging to that coat. She could smell his rich, masculine scent wrapping around her.

“You were shivering,” he muttered. “Don’t make a deal out of this, Ivy.”

No deal
. She pulled the coat closer and got back to the business of returning to the crime scene. She was actually relieved to have Bennett with her. Until a few months ago, he’d been working with the FBI’s Violent Crimes division. She didn’t know what had occurred, but he’d left the Bureau abruptly and come back home. Some folks had whispered that he’d gotten burned on his last big case.

She couldn’t ever imagine the guy getting burned.

The parade was over, so that meant that the streets had cleared out—ghost town kind of clearing. That was the routine. Parades equaled people packing the downtown area, but as soon as those parades were over, people vanished. They went home, they went into the restaurants, or they hit the balls.

So it was easy to cut through the streets and find her way back to that terrible spot.

“Right here.” She paused across from the Square, her gaze on the abandoned building. Historic, beautiful, but now seemingly forsaken. The windows were covered with boards, and the ornate railing on the front of the building was coated with peeling paint. “They were right here. I saw the man. I saw his knife.” She whirled toward Bennett. “He stabbed her. I yelled for him to stop. I yelled for help, but no one heard me.”

His gaze held hers.

“He had on a mask,” Ivy continued quickly. “Like mine, but white.” And she could not remember which Mardi Gras society was wearing the white masks this year—but she would be finding out. She wasn’t walking away from this situation, no way.
I’m a PI. I can handle this.
So she wasn’t a cop with a badge. That didn’t mean she couldn’t help people. She’d spent the last few years of her life taking cases so that she could
help.

And atone for the sins of the past.

“His mask covered his full face.” It hadn’t just been a partial mask like the one she wore. “I didn’t imagine what happened. This was real!”

He brushed past her and pulled out his phone. A quick tap on the screen, and a bright light illuminated the scene.
Flashlight app.
“There’s no blood,” he said.

The cop—Officer Chambliss—had told her the same thing after his big two-second search of the scene.

Bennett kept shining the light. “If someone was stabbed, there’d be—”

He broke off, and his light hit the faint spots on the ground. Spots that had been hit by dozens of shoes as the crowd left the parade. Spots that could be—

“Blood,” Ivy whispered.

Bennett glanced at the building. “You say the guy and the victim vanished?”

She nodded.

“If he was dragging an injured woman—or a dead body—he couldn’t move very fast. Or very far.”

Her gaze cut to the building. “The front door is locked.” There was a giant chain and a padlock in front of the main doors and all of the windows on that side were boarded up.

“Then he didn’t go in that way.” Bennett hurried around to the rear of the building. He slid into the narrow alley way and stopped near a dark door. Bennett reached for the knob, but a quick twist showed that the door was locked.

Dammit. She’d hoped—

“Stand back,” Bennett directed.

He lifted his foot and kicked that door open.

Her jaw dropped when the wood splintered. “Wait! Aren’t you supposed to have a warrant or—”

He was already rushing inside, his light sweeping the floor. So…
No warrant
. She hurried after him, her steps slower because that darkness inside was so heavy and thick. The place smelled musty and old and when Ivy felt something—
not a rat, not a rat!—
race across her shoe, she screamed.

Bennett grabbed her and yanked her against his chest.

Get your control. You’re a PI for goodness sake. Act like it.

“Ivy?”

She sucked in a deep breath. “Sorry.” She’d panicked. That happened in the dark when
things
were coming at her.

He let her go. His light swept the area once more, flying across the dirty, dusty floor. Yellow eyes gleamed back at them as a rat scurried for cover.

That rat ran right across a pale, slender hand.

Ivy’s heart stopped. “Bennett?”

He’d seen the hand, too, and he was already kneeling beside the woman. A woman in a glittering, golden gown. A woman with long, dark hair.

A woman who lay in a pool of blood.

His fingers pressed to the woman’s throat, but Ivy already knew they were staring at a dead woman.
I could have saved her! I had the chance…

Bennett slid away from the body. “Don’t touch anything,” he ordered, voice curt. ‘I’ll call this in and get a crime scene team down here.”

She wasn’t touching anything. She was barely breathing, much less moving. When Bennett’s light had fallen on the victim, she’d seen that the woman appeared to be in her mid-twenties. Her face had been chalk-white, her hair thick and dark as it spilled onto the dirty floor.

“All dressed up,” Ivy whispered.
And nowhere to go…

***

They’d found the body. Too fast.

His eyes narrowed as he slid back into the shadows. He’d just left his sweet victim there for a little while. The crowd had thinned, and he’d come back, ready to move his precious prey.

But she wasn’t alone.

And all of his plans were about to get
screwed.

He hunched his shoulders and turned, hurrying down the street. The night hadn’t gone at all like he’d planned.

Not at all…

His mask was in his pocket. His fingers slid inside and touched it. He felt so strong when he wore his mask. And his victims knew—he was invincible.

The cops won’t stop me. No one will.

Maybe he would show his new prey the mask. She could get up-close to it and then…
then she’ll see all of me.

***

“No!” Ivy snapped at him and, if it had been brighter, Bennett was sure that Ivy’s brown eyes would be spitting fury at him. “I’m the one who saw the attack! You don’t get to just—just shove me into the back of a car and send me off in the night!”

Sighing, Bennett kept his hold on the patrol car door. “I’m afraid that’s exactly what I get to do.” Blue police lights flashed around the scene. Reinforcements had come running at his call. Unfortunately, they hadn’t come in time to help the victim.

“I
saw—

“You said that you saw a man in a white mask. A guy wearing a tux. You couldn’t tell me his hair color, his eye color—”

“I told you he was tall,” she cut in, her words shooting out fast. “About your height, with broad shoulders. He was fit. Strong.”

BOOK: Until Death
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