Afraid to die, p.1
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       Afraid to Die, p.1

           Lisa Jackson
 
Afraid to Die


  THE NEXT VICTIM

  “Let’s hope he’s right,” Alvarez said. “That Brenda’s taking a break or having a fling or whatever, but that she comes back, and soon.”

  “I don’t think it’s gonna happen,” Pescoli said as they hiked across the snowy parking lot to Alvarez’s car.

  “Me neither.”

  Pescoli hated to admit it, but after the discovery of Lara Sue Gilfry’s body, she was convinced that whoever had killed her wouldn’t be satisfied with just one victim. The scene had been too staged, the effort to display her body too involved for the creep to stop at just one event.

  Pescoli was willing to bet a week’s pay that that killer was poised to strike again.

  She knew it.

  Felt that cold certainty deep in her bones.

  And she feared that the next body they found would be Brenda Sutherland’s ...

  Books by Lisa Jackson

  Stand-Alones

  SEE HOW SHE DIES

  FINAL SCREAM

  RUNNING SCARED

  WHISPERS

  TWICE KISSED

  UNSPOKEN

  DEEP FREEZE

  FATAL BURN

  MOST LIKELY TO DIE

  WICKED GAME

  WICKED LIES

  WITHOUT MERCY

  YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW

  Anthony Paterno/Cahill Family Novels

  IF SHE ONLY KNEW

  ALMOST DEAD

  Rick Bentz/Reuben Montoya Novels

  HOT BLOODED

  COLD BLOODED

  SHIVER

  ABSOLUTE FEAR

  LOST SOULS

  MALICE

  DEVIOUS

  Pierce Reed/Nikki Gillette Novels

  THE NIGHT BEFORE

  THE MORNING AFTER

  Selena Alvarez/Regan Pescoli Novels

  LEFT TO DIE

  CHOSEN TO DIE

  BORN TO DIE

  AFRAID TO DIE

  Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation

  LISA JACKSON

  Afraid To Die

  ZEBRA BOOKS

  KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.

  http://www.kensingtonbooks.com

  All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.

  Table of Contents

  THE NEXT VICTIM

  Books by Lisa Jackson

  Title Page

  Prologue

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Epilogue

  Teaser chapter

  Copyright Page

  Prologue

  San Bernardino County

  Six Years Earlier

  What the hell is she doing here?

  From his beat-up, unmarked car, Dylan O’Keefe squinted into the night, his eyes narrowing on a figure darting through the shadows of the empty lot across the street. Watery blue light from a single street lamp at the corner of the street illuminated the weed-choked space where a couple of abandoned vehicles had been left to rust, and the air was thick, smells of exhaust and wood smoke heavy in the air, though no traffic was visible, no fires burning.

  But there had been in this small town in the foothills of the mountains, and recently, as evidenced by the cluster of four-wheel-drive units parked near the De Maestro hideout.

  Though it was December, the terrain was dusty, a hardscrabble landscape for what was essentially a ghost town, abandoned for the most part after the gold in the surrounding hills had been depleted a hundred years before. Only a handful of residents called this area home, but it was obvious someone resided in the dirty bungalow with its sagging tile roof and stained stucco walls. The porch had rotted and been repaired, and the stuff in the yard, the kids’ toys and Christmas decor, was, no doubt, part of the facade, an attempt to make the house fit into the neighborhood, to look “lived in” by a family.

  All a lie.

  And about to come crashing down.

  Except that now, in the middle of the stakeout—an effort to ensure that Alberto De Maestro was, indeed, within the dingy walls—a dark figure was slinking through the shadows, a figure he’d recognize anywhere as Detective Selena Alvarez. Everything they’d worked for, the operation that had been in play for sixteen months, was suddenly about to go sideways.

  Damn it! “You see her?” he whispered to his partner.

  “Mmm-hmmm.” Rico, forever noncommittal, was nodding slowly, his fleshy face sweating in the lamplight, his eyes focused in the direction of the empty lot.

  “She can’t be here!”

  “Leave it be.” But even Rico was at attention as Selena crossed the sagging fence between the two lots, now on De Maestro’s property with its ramshackle bungalow, shades drawn, the yard littered with toys and Christmas decorations, most of which had lights that had burned out. Even the string wound around the base of the single palm tree outside was missing bulbs.

  All part of a front anyway.

  O’Keefe reached up, turned off the interior light and opened the passenger door.

  “Wait! What’re you doing?” Rico demanded.

  O’Keefe didn’t wait for recriminations or arguments. He’d already landed on the cracked cement, his service weapon drawn. He had to get to her, to call her back.

  This was all wrong.

  All wrong!

  If De Maestro got wind that she was outside ... Silently he crossed the street, was aware of a breeze rolling over the asphalt, kicking up dry leaves and a rustling plastic bag that skated past a few parked cars. A dog, penned in the yard, hidden in the night, started barking wildly.

  Oh, God, no!

  Still Alvarez moved forward.

  Don’t! he silently screamed, fear curdling inside him. What was she thinking? Why was she here? The dog began to howl. Get back! This is nuts—

  Blam! A side door flew open.

  “Shut up!” a man yelled from the doorway, his lean body in silhouette, a handgun visible. Alberto De Maestro. Target of the sting. Linchpin of the De Maestro drug cartel. Jesus, God! He was right there!

  No! No! No!

  O’Keefe’s heart pounded in his ears.

  Another man appeared in the doorway, obviously trying to talk some sense into De Maestro, to pull him inside, but the bigger man was having none of it, and as the dog quieted and somewhere in the distance a siren wailed, he turned, looking straight at Alvarez.

  Oh, God.

  A smile as evil as all of hell curved his lips, showing off white teeth as he raised his gun. “Perra,” he said, aiming, his voice slurred.

  Alvarez froze.

  Too late.

  Running now, his weapon raised, O’Keefe yelled, “Drop it! Police! Policia! Alberto De Maestro, drop your weapon!”

  “Fuck off!” Spinning agilely, De Maestro turned his gun on O’Keefe. His malicious grin widened. The devil himself. “Feliz Navidad, bastardo!”

  With that, he pulled the trigger.

  Chapter 1

  Her skin wa
s tinged with blue.

  Her flesh becoming stiff—which was perfect.

  Her eyes, through the ice, stared upward, yet they saw nothing and, unfortunately, she couldn’t appreciate how much love, affection and thought was going into this work.

  No longer did her shallow breath cause the ice to melt near her nose, and her mouth, thankfully, had closed, her lips perfectly fused together, a darker blue ... like Sleeping Beauty, he thought as he carefully poured another layer of water over her.

  Ice crystals formed over her naked body, glazing the youthful flesh, sparkling in the dim lights of his cavern.

  So beautiful.

  So perfect.

  So dead.

  Humming along to Christmas music playing from his battery-operated docking station in this, his private chamber, he sculpted. Carefully. With precise attention to detail. Perfection; that was what he was striving for. And he would get it.

  He kept his sculpting room at thirty degrees, just below freezing, and his breath fogged as he worked in his underground studio. Though a snowstorm was raging through this section of the Bitterroot Mountains, down here, deep in the caves, the air was calm; not a breath of the wind could be heard.

  Wearing a neoprene suit, gloves, boots and ski mask, he silently wished he could strip bare, feel the bite of cold air against his flesh, feel more alive, but that would have to wait. He couldn’t be rash, couldn’t allow any bit of his skin or hair or even sweat to mar his work.

  Besides, there was always that sticky problem of DNA once the police became involved. That would be soon, he knew, because this piece of art was nearly finished. A little more whittling here, a bit of shaving there.

  “Oh, the weather outside is frightful,” he sang along under his breath as the music reverberated through these linked caves that he’d claimed for his work. Hidden deep in these foothills, the caverns provided a perfect spot. A natural spring provided the water he needed, and battery-powered lights gave off a bluish glow. When he needed brighter light, he donned headlamps to illuminate the areas where he needed to work.

  From deeper within his workspace he heard a pathetic mewl and he frowned. Why wouldn’t that woman just die, already? He’d given her enough sedatives to knock out an elephant and yet she lay on the precipice between consciousness and death, lingering. And moaning. He frowned, hit his chisel with his hammer and the blade slipped, slicing through his glove and nicking his finger. “Damn!” Blood, his damned blood fell in a singular drop along the ice. Quickly it froze and he, rather than smear it, let it dry, all the time irritated at the delay. Once it was solid, he cut around the rivulet, giving wide berth and making certain that no hint of red disturbed his perfect piece of art.

  He was sweating by the time he was finished excavating the blood. Carefully, telling himself to be patient, he began pouring clear water from the spring over that flaw in his masterpiece. Allowing the water to freeze, he waited impatiently before pouring a little more, until there was no hint of a fissure, no blemish visible.

  “Perfect,” he whispered, satisfied.

  He stared down at his artwork, the naked woman encased in ice, and he couldn’t help but lean forward, bending close enough to lick one ice-encased nipple. His tongue tingled, the interior of his mouth so cold that a ripple of pure, icy pleasure worked its way through his bloodstream, starting out frigid, but, as his mind created scenarios where his body was rubbing up against her arctic flesh, he felt the tiniest niggle of excitement, the start of arousal.

  He rolled his tongue over the ice, imagining the salty taste of her, the bud of her nipple hard in his mouth. He’d sink his teeth in, just a little, to mingle pleasure with pain. He let out a quiet moan as his fantasy emerged.

  In his mind’s eye, he saw another beautiful woman, her hair falling freely behind her as she ran, laughing, her voice echoing through the wintry forest. Snow had drifted against the scaly trunks of the pines, ice collecting on the long needles.

  He raced through thick powder, chasing after her, watching in arousal as she tossed off her clothing, piece by piece, dropping a blouse, a skirt, a scarf into nearby snowdrifts. Finally her bra was discarded and she, in only panties, continued to run.

  He was closing the distance and taking off his own clothes, kicking off his boots, but his cold fingers fumbled with the buttons of his shirt, and his jeans, they were difficult to pull off and toss aside, so he couldn’t catch her, had to race to catch up.

  He thought of what he would do to her, how he would thrust into her, make her cold body turn molten and heat the snow that fell until it melted over her skin.

  But in his hand was his knife. The one with the handle made from the antler of a four-point he’d killed three years earlier. He remembered felling the buck, with just an arrow ...

  He was closer now ... his heart pounding, his fingers clenched over the hilt of the knife.

  Only inches from her, a half step behind when she turned, her lips turning blue, her eyes bright, her cheeks crimson with the frosty winter air. A playful smile tugged at the corner of her mouth. So perfect. Like an angel’s.

  Then she saw the knife.

  Her soft grin fell away. Shock, then horror registered on her beautiful features and she stumbled, nearly falling, throwing up more white powder as panic set in and she ran faster, not playfully, but spurred on by terror.

  His nostrils flared. He sprang forward, giving chase.

  Within a few strides he caught her, his free hand tangling in her mass of long hair and then ...

  A blur.

  All he could remember was the slash of warm blood spraying scarlet over an icy white snowdrift ...

  No! He snapped back to the here and now. He couldn’t let his mind stray from his work.

  The ice was melting in his mouth. His erection was full and bulging, straining against the hot neoprene. Straightening, he felt a moment’s disgust for his weakness and forced his ever-willing cock to stand down.

  What had gotten into him?

  He gazed down at the naked woman and noticed the place where his mouth had melted the ice and left too much of his DNA. Not smart, not smart at all. Certainly not something a person with a near-genius IQ would do.

  Quickly, as if in working swiftly he could erase the damage he’d done, he started chiseling out that spot where his mouth and saliva had touched and melted the ice.

  The bitch in the back room let out another moan and his jaw tightened. She’d die soon enough and her perfect body would show no bruise or cut or anything that would hint at violence. Then, she, too, would be encased in ice, a perfect specimen, another work of art.

  Glancing at his watch, he noted he still had enough time to finish for the day. His wife wasn’t expecting him for another hour. Plenty of time.

  Carefully, he pumped more water from the stream and poured it over his work in progress. She wasn’t quite ready, he thought as he gazed into her wide-open eyes.

  But it wouldn’t be long.

  Thankfully, the moans from the other cave had stilled and he could concentrate again, sluicing water over her while under his breath he muttered, “Let it snow, let it snow ...”

  “... let it—” Click!

  Selena Alvarez slapped the snooze button on the clock radio, then, thinking twice, turned the alarm off and rolled out of bed. God, she hated that song. Then again she wasn’t too big on anything to do with the Christmas season.

  She had her reasons.

  Not that she wanted to think about them now.

  Maybe ever.

  Though it was dark as midnight, the digital readout glowed a bright red, telling her that it was four thirty in the morning, her usual time to get up and get going. For most of the year, she tackled each day as if it were a challenge, but as autumn faded and the days of November bled into the heart of December, she felt that same old ennui that accompanied the holiday season, a definite energy sap that darkened her mood. Her usual take-the-world-head-on attitude hibernated for the winter and she had to work doubly h
ard to find her usual enthusiasm for life.

  “Idiot,” she muttered under her breath as she stretched her muscles.

  She knew the cause of her change in attitude, of course, but she never discussed it, not even with her partner. Especially not her partner. Pescoli just wouldn’t understand.

  And Alvarez definitely wasn’t going to think about it now.

  Her new puppy, a mottled mix of some kind of shepherd and either a boxer or lab, roused in his crate, stretching and barking to be released while her cat, Jane Doe, who always slept on the second pillow of the bed, lifted her head and blinked.

  Seeing that Alvarez was awake, the puppy made I-need-to-go-out whines that turned into excited yips. All the enthusiasm she was lacking seemed to manifest itself in the half-grown dog.

  “Hey, you know better,” Alvarez admonished the pup before letting him out of his kennel. Immediately he began leaping and barking at her despite her best efforts of controlling him. “No, Roscoe! Off! Down!” He streaked into the living room of her town house, running in circles around the ottoman and coffee table before wiggling with excitement at the patio door.

  Alvarez glanced at the cat, who’d climbed onto a shelf over the desk and took in the scene with feline disdain. “Yeah, I know. Don’t rub it in.” Seconds later, she let the dog outside, where he disappeared into the darkened corners of her small yard to, no doubt, lift his leg on every tree, bush and post he could find. It was still snowing, she noted as she closed the slider against a gust of winter air so cold it cut through her flannel pajamas. Through the glass, she saw that the pots she’d left on her patio were covered with five inches of icy white fluff, the lawn, before Roscoe tore into it, blanketed in a peaceful coat of white.

  Yet she found no peace or serenity with the snow.

  Adopting Roscoe had been a rash decision, especially on the heels of buying this town house, but now it was a done deal and the stupid dog had burrowed a special little spot into her heart.

  Despite his faults.

  “Pathetic,” she told herself.

 
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