Naked in death, p.10
Naked in Death,
Part #1 of In Death series by J. D. Robb
After pulling into her garage, she swore she’d call the damn mechanic the next day. If history ran true, it meant he’d have her vehicle in for a week, diddling with some idiotic chip in the heater control. The idea of the paperwork in accessing a replacement vehicle through the department was too daunting to consider.
Besides, she was used to the one she had, with all its little quirks. Everyone knew the uniforms copped the best air-to-land vehicles. Detectives had to make do with clinkers.
She’d have to rely on public transportation or just hook a car from the police garage and pay the bureaucratic price later.
Still frowning over the hassle to come and reminding herself to contact Feeney personally to have him go through a week’s worth of security discs on the Gorham, she rode the elevator to her floor. Eve had no more than unkeyed her locks when her hand was on her weapon, drawing it.
The silence of her apartment was wrong. She knew instantly she wasn’t alone. The prickle along her skin had her doing a quick sweep, arms and eyes, shifting fluidly left then right.
In the dim light of the room, the shadows hung and the silence remained. Then she caught a movement that had her tensed muscles rippling, her trigger finger poised.
“Excellent reflexes, lieutenant.” Roarke rose from the chair where he’d been lounging. Where he’d been watching her. “So excellent,” he continued in that same mild tone as he touched on a lamp, “that I have every faith you won’t use that on me.”
She might have. She very well might have given him one good jolt. That would have wiped that complacent smile off his face. But any discharge of a weapon meant paperwork she wasn’t prepared to face for simple revenge.
“What the fuck are you doing here?”
“Waiting for you.” His eyes remained on hers as he lifted his hands. “I’m unarmed. You’re welcome to check for yourself if you won’t take my word for it.”
Very slowly, and with some reluctance, she holstered her weapon. “I imagine you have a whole fleet of very expensive and very clever lawyers, Roarke, who would have you out before I finished booking you on a B and E. But why don’t you tell me why I shouldn’t put myself to the trouble, and the city to the expense of throwing you in a cage for a couple of hours?”
Roarke wondered if he’d become perverse that he could so enjoy the way she slashed at him. “It wouldn’t be productive. And you’re tired, Eve. Why don’t you sit down?”
“I won’t bother to ask you how you got in here.” She could feel herself vibrating with temper, and wondered just how much satisfaction she’d gain from clamping his elegant wrists in restraints. “You own the building, so that question answers itself.”
“One of the things I admire about you is that you don’t waste time on the obvious.”
“My question is why.”
“I found myself thinking about you, on professional and personal levels, after you’d left my office.” He smiled, quick and charming. “Have you eaten?”
“Why?” she repeated.
He stepped toward her so that the slant of light from the lamp played behind him. “Professionally, I made a couple of calls that might be of interest to you. Personally . . .” He lifted a hand to her face, fingers just brushing her chin, his thumb skimming the slight dip. “I found myself concerned by that fatigue in your eyes. For some reason I feel compelled to feed you.”
Though she knew it was the gesture of a cranky child, she jerked her chin free. “What calls?”
He merely smiled again, moved to her tele-link. “May I?” he said even as he keyed in the number he wanted. “This is Roarke. You can send the meal up now.” He disengaged, smiled at her again. “You don’t object to pasta, do you?”
“Not on principle. But I object to being handled.”
“That’s something else I like about you.” Because she wouldn’t, he sat and, ignoring her frown, took out his cigarette case. “But I find it easier to relax over a hot meal. You don’t relax enough, Eve.”
“You don’t know me well enough to judge what I do or don’t do. And I didn’t say you could smoke in here.”
He lighted the cigarette, eyeing her through the faint, fragrant haze. “You didn’t arrest me for breaking and entering, you’re not going to arrest me for smoking. I brought a bottle of wine. I left it to breathe on the counter in the kitchen. Would you like some?”
“What I’d like—” She had a sudden flash, and the fury came so quickly she could barely see through it. In one leap, she was at her computer, demanding access.
That annoyed him—enough to have his voice tighten. “If I’d come in to poke through your files, I’d hardly have waited around for you.”
“The hell you wouldn’t. That kind of arrogance is just like you.” But her security was intact. She wasn’t sure if she was relieved or disappointed. Until she saw the small package beside her monitor. “What’s this?”
“I have no idea.” He blew out another stream of smoke. “It was on the floor inside the door. I picked it up.”
Eve knew what it was—the size, the shape, the weight. And she knew when she viewed the disc she would see Lola Starr’s murder.
Something about the way her eyes changed had him rising again, had his voice gentling. “What is it, Eve?”
“Official business. Excuse me.”
She walked directly to the bedroom, closed and secured the door.
It was Roarke’s turn to frown. He went into the kitchen, located glasses, and poured the burgundy. She lived simply, he thought. Very little clutter, very little that spoke of background or family. No mementos. He’d been tempted to wander into her bedroom while he’d had the apartment to himself and see what he might have discovered about her there, but he’d resisted.
It was not so much respect for her privacy as it was the challenge she presented that provoked him to discover her from the woman alone rather than her surroundings.
Still, he found the plain colors and lack of fuss illuminating. She didn’t live here, as far as he could see, so much as she existed here. She lived, he deduced, in her work.
He sipped the wine, approved it. After dousing his cigarette, he carried both glasses back into the living room. It was going to be more than interesting to solve the puzzle of Eve Dallas.
When she came back in, nearly twenty minutes later, a white-coated waiter was just finishing setting up dishes on a small table by the window. However glorious the scents, they failed to stir her appetite. Her head was pounding again, and she’d forgotten to take medication.
With a murmur, Roarke dismissed the waiter. He said nothing until the door closed and he was alone with Eve again. “I’m sorry.”
“For whatever’s upset you.” Except for that one flush of temper, she’d been pale when she’d come into the apartment. But her cheeks were colorless now, her eyes too dark. When he started toward her, she shook her head once, fiercely.
“Go away, Roarke.”
“Going away’s easy. Too easy.” Very deliberately, he put his arms around her, felt her stiffen. “Give yourself a minute.” His voice was smooth, persuasive. “Would it matter, really matter to anyone but you, if you took one minute to let go?”
She shook her head again, but this time there was weariness in the gesture. He heard the sigh escape, and taking advantage, he drew her closer. “You can’t tell me?”
He nodded, but his eyes flashed with impatience. He knew better; it shouldn’t matter to him. She shouldn’t. But too much about her mattered.
“Someone else then,” he murmured.
“There’s no one else.” Then realizing how that might be construed, she pulled back. “I didn’t mean—”
“I know you didn’t.” His smile was wry and not terribly amused. “But there isn’t going to be anyone else, for either of us, not for some time.”
Her step back wasn’t a retreat, but a statement of distance. “You’re taking too much for granted, Roarke.”
“Not at all. Nothing for granted. You’re work, lieutenant. A great deal of work. Your dinner’s getting cold.”
She was too tired to make a stand, too tired to argue. She sat down, picked up her fork. “Have you been to Sharon DeBlass’s apartment during the last week?”
“No, why would I?”
She studied him carefully. “Why would anyone?”
He paused a moment, then realized the question wasn’t academic. “To relive the event,” he suggested. “To be certain nothing was left behind that would be incriminating.”
“And as owner of the building, you could get in as easily as you got in here.”
His mouth tightened briefly. Annoyance, she judged, the annoyance of a man who was weary of answering the same questions. It was a small thing, but a very good sign of his innocence. “Yes. I don’t believe I’d have a problem. My master code would get me in.”
No, she thought, his master code wouldn’t have broken the police security. That would require a different level, or an expert on security.
“I assume that you believe someone not in your department has been in that apartment since the murder.”
“You can assume that,” she agreed. “Who handles your security, Roarke?”
“I use Lorimar for both my business and my home.” He lifted his glass. “It’s simpler that way, as I own the company.”
“Of course you do. I suppose you know quite a bit about security yourself.”
“You could say I have a long-standing interest in security matters. That’s why I bought the company.” He scooped up the herbed pasta, held the fork to her lips, and was satisfied when she took the offered bite. “Eve, I’m tempted to confess all, just to wipe that unhappy look off your face and see you eat with the enthusiasm I’d enjoyed last time. But whatever my crimes, and they are undoubtedly legion, they don’t include murder.”
She looked down at her plate and began to eat. It frazzled her that he could see she was unhappy. “What did you mean when you said I was work?”
“You think things through very carefully, and you weigh the odds, the options. You’re not a creature of impulse, and though I believe you could be seduced, with the right timing, and the right touch, it wouldn’t be an ordinary occurrence.”
She lifted her gaze again. “That’s what you want to do, Roarke? Seduce me?”
“I will seduce you,” he returned. “Unfortunately, not tonight. Beyond that, I want to find out what it is that makes you what you are. And I want to help you get what you need. Right now, what you need is a murderer. You blame yourself,” he added. “That’s foolish and annoying.”
“I don’t blame myself.”
“Look in the mirror,” Roarke said quietly.
“There was nothing I could do,” Eve exploded. “Nothing I could do to stop it. Any of it.”
“Are you supposed to be able to stop it, any of it? All of it?”
“That’s exactly what I’m supposed to do.”
He tilted his head. “How?”
She pushed away from the table. “By being smart. By being in time. By doing my job.”
Something more here, he mused. Something deeper. He folded his hands on the table. “Isn’t that what you’re doing now?”
The images flooded back into her brain. All the death. All the blood. All the waste. “Now they’re dead.” And the taste of it was bitter in her mouth. “There should have been something I could have done to stop it.”
“To stop a murder before it happens, you’d have to be inside the head of a killer,” he said quietly. “Who could live with that?”
“I can live with that.” She hurled it back at him. And it was pure truth. She could live with anything but failure. “Serve and protect—it’s not just a phrase, it’s a promise. If I can’t keep my word, I’m nothing. And I didn’t protect them, any of them. I can only serve them after they’re dead. Goddamn it, she was hardly more than a baby. Just a baby, and he cut her into pieces. I wasn’t in time. I wasn’t in time, and I should have been.”
Her breath caught on a sob, shocking her. Pressing a hand to her mouth, she lowered herself onto the sofa. “God,” was all she could say. “God. God.”
He came to her. Instinct had him taking her arms firmly rather than gathering her close. “If you can’t or won’t talk to me, you have to talk to someone. You know that.”
“I can handle it. I—” But the rest of the words slid down her throat when he shook her.
“What’s it costing you?” he demanded. “And how much would it matter to anyone if you let it go? For one minute just let it go.”
“I don’t know.” And maybe that was the fear, she realized. She wasn’t sure if she could pick up her badge, or her weapon, or her life, if she let herself think too deeply, or feel too much. “I see her,” Eve said on a deep breath. “I see her whenever I close my eyes or stop concentrating on what needs to be done.”
She rose, retrieved her wine and his, and then returned to the sofa. The long drink eased her dry throat and settled the worst of the nerves. It was fatigue, she warned herself, that weakened her enough that she couldn’t hold it in.
“The call came through when I was a half block away. I’d just closed another case, finished the data load. Dispatch called for the closest unit. Domestic violence—it’s always messy, but I was practically on the doorstep. So I took it. Some of the neighbors were outside, they were all talking at once.”
The scene came back to her, perfectly, like a video exactly cued. “A woman was in her nightgown, and she was crying. Her face was battered, and one of the neighbors was trying to bind up a gash on her arm. She was bleeding badly, so I told them to call the MTs. She kept saying, ‘He’s got her. He’s got my baby.’ ”
Eve took another drink. “She grabbed me, bleeding on me, screaming and crying and telling me I had to stop him, I had to save her baby. I should have called for backup, but I didn’t think I could wait. I took the stairs, and I could hear him before I got to the third floor where he was locked in. He was raging. I think I heard the little girl screaming, but I’m not sure.”
She closed her eyes then, praying she’d been wrong. She wanted to believe that the child had already been dead, already beyond pain. To have been that close, only steps away . . . No, she couldn’t live with that.
“When I got to the door, I used the standard. I’d gotten his name from one of the neighbors. I used his name, and the child’s name. It’s supposed to make it more personal, more real if you use names. I identified myself and said I was coming in. But he just kept raging. I could hear things breaking. I couldn’t hear the child now. I think I knew. Before I broke down the door, I knew. He’d used the kitchen knife to slice her to pieces.”
Her hand shook as she raised the glass again. “There was so much blood. She was so small, but there was so much blood. On the floor, on the wall, all over him. I could see it was still dripping off the knife. Her face was turned toward me. Her little face, with big blue eyes. Like a doll’s.”
She was silent for a moment, then set her glass aside. “He was too wired up to be stunned. He kept coming. There was blood dripping off the knife, and splattered all over him, and he kept coming. So I looked in his eyes, right in his eyes. And I killed him.”
“And the next day,” Roarke said quietly, “you dived straight into a murder investigation.”
“Testing’s postponed. I’ll get to it in another day or two.” She moved her shoulders. “The shrinks, they’ll think it’s the termination. I can make them think that if I have to. But it’s not. I had to kill him. I can accept that.” She looked straight into Roarke’s eyes and knew she could tell him what she hadn’t been able to say to herself. “I wanted to kill him. Maybe even needed to. When I watched him die, I thought, He’ll never do that to another child. And I was glad that I’d been the one to stop him.”
“You think that’s wrong.”
“I know it’s wrong. I know anytime a co
He leaned forward so that their faces were close. “What was the child’s name?”
“Mandy.” Her breath hitched once before she controlled it. “She was three.”
“Would you be torn up this way if you’d killed him before he’d gotten to her?”
She opened her mouth, closed it again. “I guess I’ll never know, will I?”
“Yes, you do.” He laid a hand over hers, watched her frown and look down at the contact. “You know, I’ve spent most of my life with a basic dislike of police—for one reason or another. I find it very odd that I’ve met, under such extraordinary circumstances, one I can respect and be attracted to at the same time.”
She lifted her gaze again, and though the frown remained, she didn’t draw her hand free of his. “That’s a strange compliment.”
“Apparently we have a strange relationship.” He rose, drawing her to her feet. “Now you need to sleep.” He glanced toward the dinner she’d barely touched. “You can heat that up when you’ve gotten your appetite back.”
“Thanks. Next time I’d appreciate you waiting until I’m home before you come in.”
“Progress,” he murmured when they’d reached the door. “You accept there’ll be a next time.” With a hint of a smile, he brought the hand he still held to his lips. He caught bafflement, discomfort and, he thought, a trace of embarrassment in her eyes as he brushed a light kiss over her knuckles. “Until next time,” he said, and left.
Frowning, Eve rubbed her knuckles over her jeans as she headed to the bedroom. She stripped, letting her clothes lay wherever they dropped. She climbed into bed, shut her eyes, and willed herself to sleep.
She was just dozing off when she remembered Roarke had never told her who he’d called and what he’d discovered.
In her office, with the door locked, Eve reviewed the disc of Lola Starr’s murder with Feeney. She didn’t flinch at the little popping sound of the silenced weapon. Her system no longer recoiled at the insult the bullet caused in flesh.
Naked in Death by J. D. Robb / Mystery & Detective / Romance & Love have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes