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Authors: Catherine Coulter

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BOOK: Riptide
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He was silent for the longest time, chewing his sandwich, helping Sam eat his, then said finally, some anger in his voice, which surprised her, “You're quite the optimist, Becca.”

But she wasn't thinking about the skeleton at that moment. She was wondering why that man—Adam Carruthers—was watching her house. He was standing motionless just to the right, in amongst the spruce trees, not twenty feet away. He wasn't the stalker. It wasn't his voice, she was sure of that. The stalker's voice was not old, not young, but unnervingly smooth. She knew she would recognize that voice from hell anywhere. Carruthers's voice was different. But who was he? And why was he so interested in her?


dam stretched. He went through a few relaxing tae kwon do moves to ease his muscles. He was just in the process of slowly raising his left leg, his left arm extended fully, when she said from behind him, “Your arm is a bit too high. Lower your elbow at least an inch and
extend your wrist, yeah, and pull your fingers back a bit more. That's better. Now, don't even twitch or I'll shoot your head off.”

He was faster than she could have imagined. She was a good six feet behind him. She had her Coonan .357 Magnum automatic, chambered with seven bullets, aimed right at him, and in the very next instant, his whole body was in motion, moving so fast it was a blur, at least until his right foot lightly and gracefully clipped the gun from her hand, and his left hand smacked her hard enough in the shoulder to send her flying backward. She landed on her back.

Becca grabbed the gun, which lay on the ground two feet to her left, and brought it up only to have him kick it out of her hand again. Her wrist stung for a moment, then went numb.

“Sorry,” he said, standing over her now. “I don't react well to folks holding guns on me. I hope I didn't hurt you.” He actually had the gall to reach out his hand to help her up. She was breathing hard, her shoulder was aching and her wrist was useless. She scooted backward, turned, and tried to run. She wasn't fast enough. He grabbed her and hauled her back against him. “No, just hold it a minute. I'm not going to hurt you.”

She stopped cold and became very, very still. Her head fell forward and he knew in that moment that she had simply given up.

He knew her shoulder had to hurt, that her wrist was now probably hanging numb. “It'll be all right. You'll get feeling back in your wrist soon. It'll burn a bit but then it'll be okay again.”

Still drawn in on herself, she said, “I didn't think he could be you—your voice is all wrong, I would have sworn to that—but I obviously was wrong.”

She thought he was the stalker, the man who had murdered that poor old woman in front of the museum, and then shot Governor Bledsoe. Automatically, he let her go. “Look, I'm sorry—” He was speaking to the back of her head. She'd taken off the second he'd let her go. She was
off at a dead run, through the spruce trees, back toward her house.

He caught her within ten yards, grabbed her left arm, and jerked her around. She moved quickly. Her fist hit him solidly on the jaw. His head snapped back with the force of her sharp-knuckled blow. She was strong. He grabbed both her arms, only to feel her knee come up. His fast reflexes saved him, just barely, thank God, and her knee got him in the thigh. It still hurt, but not as bad as if she'd gotten him in the crotch. That would have sent him to the ground, sobbing his guts out. He whirled her around and brought her back against his chest. He clamped her arms at her sides and simply held her against him. She was breathing hard, her muscles tensing, relaxing, then tensing again. She was very afraid, but he knew she'd act again if he gave her the opening. He was impressed. But now he had her.

“I don't know how you found me,” she said, still panting. “I did everything I could think of to hide my trail. How did you track me down?”

“It did take me two and a half days to track you to Portland, actually longer than I'd expected.”

She twisted her head to look at him. “You bastard. Let me go.”

“Not just yet. I want to hang on to my body parts. Hey, you didn't do too badly for an amateur.”

“Let me go.”

“Will you stop with the violence? I can't stand violence. It makes me nervous.”

Her look was incredulous as she chewed her bottom lip. Finally, she nodded. “All right.”

He let her go and took a quick step back, his eyes on her right knee.

She was off and running in a flash. This time, he let her go. She was fast, but he knew that from her dossier. She'd spotted him watching her house. It amazed him. He was always so very careful, so patient, as still as one of the spruce trees. In the past, his life had depended on it more
times than he cared to remember. But she'd cottoned on to the fact that someone was out there, with her in his sights.

Well, the stalker had been after her for more than three weeks in New York. That had sharpened her senses, kept her alert. There was no doubt she was afraid, but it hadn't mattered. She'd come out and confronted him anyway. He whistled as he walked over and bent down to pick up her Coonan automatic. It was a nice gun. It had a closed breech that gave it very high velocity. His brother had one of these babies, was always bragging about it. It was steady, reliable, deadly, and not all that common. He wondered how she handled the recoil. He dumped the seven rimmed cartridges into his hand, then dropped them into his pocket. He paused a moment, wondering if he shouldn't leave the gun in her mailbox or slip it just inside her front door.

He imagined she wouldn't feel safe without it.

He saw Tyler McBride and his son leave about ten minutes later. He saw her wave from the front porch. He saw her looking over toward where he quietly stood, surely not visible through the trees. She went back into the house after Tyler McBride and his son drove off. He waited.

Not three minutes later she was back, standing on the front porch, looking toward him. He saw her thinking, weighing, assessing. Finally, she trotted toward him.

She had guts.

He didn't move, just waited, watching her. He realized when she was only about ten feet from him that she had a big kitchen butcher knife clutched in her hand.

He smiled. She was her father's daughter.


lowly, he pulled her gun out of his pants pocket and aimed it in her general direction. “Even that big honker knife can't compete with this Coonan you managed to get off that guy you met at the restaurant in Rockland. He was, however, pissed that you wouldn't go to bed with him.” He grinned at her. “Hey, you got what you needed. You did good.”

“How did you know about that? Oh, never mind. My knife can certainly compete with the Coonan now. I watched you take the bullets out.”

He grinned at her again, he just couldn't help it, and held the automatic out to her, butt first.

“What good is it? You've got the bullets. Give them to me now.”

He scooped the seven bullets out of his pocket and handed them and the automatic to her.

She eyed the gun and the bullets, then backed up another step. “No, you want me to come a bit closer and then you can kick my knife away. You're fast, too fast. I'm not stupid.”

“All right,” Adam said, and he thought, Smart woman.
He laid the bullets and the gun down on the ground and took a good half dozen steps back.

He said easily, “It's an effective weapon, that Coonan, but if I have to carry one of those things, I prefer my Colt Delta Elite.”

“It sounds like some western debutante.”

He laughed. “Aren't you going to pick up the gun?”

She shook her head at him and didn't move. She was holding the butcher knife like a mad killer in a slasher movie, her arm pulled back, the point out and arched. The sucker looked really sharp. He could get it from her, but one of them could easily get sliced up. He stayed put. Besides, he wanted to see what she'd do.

“Tell me what you're doing here. Why did you come up to me at Food Fort? Why are you watching me?”

“I'd really rather not tell you just yet. I hadn't expected you to see me. When I've wanted to stay hidden in the past, I've managed it quite well.” He suddenly looked pissed off, not at her but at himself. She almost smiled, then tightened her grip on the knife.

“Tell me, now.”

“All right, then. I'm here to do research on why women dye their hair.”

She very nearly ran at him with the knife. She was so mad she nearly forgot the bone-grinding fear. “All right, you jerk, I want you to lie on the ground and fold your hands underneath you. Do it now.”

“No,” he said. “The windbreaker is new. It looks good on me, hey, maybe it even looks dangerous and sexy. What do you think? Women like black, I've heard. Nope, I don't want it to get dirty.”

“I called Sheriff Gaffney. He should be here any minute.”

“Nah, you can't bluff me on that. The last person you want here is the sheriff. If I spilled the beans, he'd have to call the New York cops and the FBI.”

She was so pale he thought she'd pass out. Her hand trembled a bit, but then she got ahold of herself. “So you
know,” she said. “I don't think you're the stalker—your voice is all wrong and you're too big—but you know all about him, don't you?”

“Yes. Now listen to me, Becca. I'm not here to hurt you. I'm here to—Hey, think of me as your own personal guardian angel.”

“You're so dark, you look more like the devil, but you're taller than I think the devil is. What's more, unlike the devil, I'll bet you don't have a lick of charm. The last thing you are is a guardian angel. You're a reporter or a paparazzo, aren't you?”

“Now you've offended me.” She nearly laughed. But she had to remember that he was dangerous, fast and dangerous. No, she couldn't afford to forget that, not for an instant. She would still have laughed if her gut hadn't been frozen with fear for nearly as long as she could remember. He was trying to disarm her, at least figuratively this time. Thank God he didn't have use of her gun. And he was too far away to kick out at her. But he was fast. He had long legs. She took another step back, as insurance.

She waved the knife at him. “I've had it. Tell me who you are. Tell me now or I might have to hurt you. Don't underestimate me, I'm strong. No, it's more than that. I'm beyond frightened. I've got nothing to lose now.”

He looked at her—too pale, her flesh drawn tightly over her bones, too thin, so stressed out he could nearly see her insides quivering. He said slowly, his voice as unthreatening as he could make it, “To hurt me you'd have to come closer. You know better than to do that. Yeah, you're strong, maybe I wouldn't even want to run into you in a dark alley. But there's a big something you're wrong about. Everyone has something to lose, including you. Things have just gotten a bit out of hand for you, that's all.”

“A bit out of hand,” she repeated slowly, then laughed, an ugly, raw sound. “You have no idea what you're talking about.” She waited, just stood there, the knife up and arched, her hand starting to cramp, her muscles starting to protest, staring at him, wondering what to do, wondering if
she could believe him and knowing she'd be a fool even to consider it.

He said, “Actually, I do. What I wanted to say was that the media and the press are after you in full force, that's a fact, but you should be safe here.”

“You found me.”

“Yeah, but I'm so good I occasionally even surprise myself.”

She raised the knife even higher. She felt the sun warm between her shoulder blades. It was a beautiful day and everything was a mess. He was her guardian angel? Her arm muscles were burning.

He started to say something more, then stopped. It was the look on her face that kept him quiet. It was like they were both frozen in time and place. Then she surprised the hell out of him. She dropped the knife to the ground and walked straight up to him. She stopped a foot short, looked up at him thoughtfully, then stuck out her hand. He shook hers, bemused, as she said, “If you're my guardian angel, then get on the phone to the medical examiner's office in Augusta and find out how long that poor woman who fell out of my basement wall was buried in there.”

He didn't release her hand. She was tall. He didn't have to look down that far. “All right.”

She snapped her fingers in front of his nose. “Just like that? You're so powerful you can find out something just that fast?”

“In this case, yes, I can. You don't look much like your mother.”

The hand stiffened, but she didn't jerk free. She said calmly, “No, I don't. Mom always told me that I'm the picture of my dad. My dad—his name was Thomas—he died at the very end of the Vietnam war. He was a hero. My mother loved him very much, probably too much.”

“Yes,” he said. “I know all about that.”


“It's not important right now. Believe me.”

She didn't, of course, but she was willing to put it on
hold for the moment because she said then, “I saw a really old snapshot of him. He looked so young, so happy. He was very handsome, so tall and straight.” She paused a moment, and he heard the hitch in her voice. “I was too young to remember him when he died, but my mom said he'd seen me born, held me and loved me. And then he left and didn't come back.”

“I know.”

She cocked her head to one side, and again she let it go, saying, “When I first saw you in Food Fort, I thought you looked hard, like you didn't smile very often, like you ate nails and hot salsa for snacks. I thought you could be mean if you had to, maybe even cruel. You still look mean. I can sense that you're dangerous; actually, I just know it, so don't even bother trying to deny it. Who are you, really?”

“I'm Adam Carruthers. I told you that at Food Fort. That really is my name. Now, take me to your house and I'll get on the phone. We won't find out who the skeleton is, but we'll find out at least how long she was in that wall. They'll have to do DNA tests; that takes a while. First things first.”

He watched her pick up her Coonan and stuff the bullets in her jeans pocket. He picked up her kitchen knife and followed her back to Jacob Marley's house.

It took him eleven minutes and two phone calls. When he laid down the phone the second time, he looked over at her and smiled. “It shouldn't take long.” In no more than three seconds, the phone rang. He motioned her away and picked it up. “Carruthers here.”

He listened, wrote something down on a sheet of paper. “Thanks a lot, Jarvis, I owe you. Yeah, yeah, you know I always pay up. It just might not be tomorrow. You know how to reach me. Okay, thanks. Bye.”

He carefully laid the phone back into the cradle. “It isn't Ann McBride, if that's what you're worried about.”

“No, of course it's not Tyler's missing wife. I never thought it was. I've known him since I was eighteen. I've never met a more decent man. Really.” But she was nearly
shaking with relief, and he saw it. However, it was his turn to let it go.

But then she said, “I couldn't have stood it if Tyler had been a monster instead of a really nice guy. I guess I would have just hung it up.”

“Yeah, your boyfriend is off the hook. The skeleton was buried inside that wall for at least ten years, possibly more. She was probably in her late teens when she was killed by a hard blow right in the face, the forehead actually. Whoever did it was really pissed, enraged, totally out of control. Jarvis said it was a vicious blow, killed her instantly.”

“It looks like Jacob Marley really might have killed her, then.”

He shrugged. “Who knows? It's not our problem, thank God.”

“It's certainly mine, since she tumbled out of the wall onto my basement floor. I can't believe anyone would kill a teenager for wandering across his yard, and with such viciousness.”

A second later the phone rang. It was Bernie Bradstreet, owner of
The Riptide Independent,
wanting to know what she could tell him. “I know the sheriff wants to keep a lid on this, but—”

She told him everything, omitting only what Adam Carruthers had just found out from the medical examiner's office. She didn't think the sheriff would like to be cut out of that particular loop. Then Bernie Bradstreet asked her to dinner, with his wife, he hastened to add when she didn't say anything. She put him off. When she hung up the phone, Adam said, “Newspaper? You handled it well. Now you need to call the sheriff. Don't tell him you already know the answers, just encourage him to call the medical examiner's office. Jarvis told me they're not ready to release the information yet, but if the sheriff calls, he might be able to pry it out of them. Oh, yeah, when the sheriff comes, tell him I'm your cousin from Baltimore here to visit. Okay?”

“Cousins? We don't look anything alike.”

He gave her a crooked grin.“Thank heaven for that.”


heriff Gaffney didn't like the news from Augusta. He liked tidy conclusions, puzzles where all the pieces finally locked cleanly into place, not this: an old skeleton, identity unknown, that had been bricked inside Jacob Marley's basement wall after her gruesome murder. He didn't really want Ann McBride to be dead, but it would have made things so much cleaner, so nice and straightforward. He glanced at Tyler McBride. The guy looked calm, but relieved? He just couldn't tell. Tyler had always managed to keep what he was feeling close to his vest. He was good at poker, nobody liked to play against him. Funny thing, though, the sheriff would have sworn that Tyler had killed his wife. He still kept his eye on Tyler, hoping to see him do something strange, like visit an unmarked grave or something. Well, he'd been wrong before. He guessed maybe he was wrong again. He hated it, it wasn't pleasant, but sometimes it happened, even to a man like him.

Sheriff Gaffney looked over at Ms. Powell's cousin, a big, tough-looking guy who looked like he could take care of himself. His body was hard and in good shape, but he seemed like a man who could be patient, as if he was used to waiting in the shadows, like a predator stalking its prey. Gaffney shook his head. He had to stop reading those suspense novels he liked so much.

He looked over at Becca Powell, a nice young woman who wasn't, thank God, so pale now, or on the verge of hysteria. Hopefully her cousin would keep her that way. After finding that skeleton, just maybe she would be glad to have him around for a while. He found himself studying Carruthers again. The guy was dark, from his black hair—too long, in the sheriff's opinion—to his eyes, nearly black in the dim late-afternoon light in Jacob Marley's living room. He had big feet in scuffed black boots, soft-looking
boots that looked like he'd worn them for a good long time and waited in the shadows with those boots on his feet, not making a whisper of a sound. He wondered what the hell the man did for a living. Nothing normal and expected, he'd bet his next meal on that. Just maybe he didn't want to know.

The sheriff looked around the living room. Jesus, the place looked like a museum or a tomb. It felt old and musty, although it smelled like lemons, just like at home.

He knew, of course, that everyone was looking at him, waiting. He liked that. It built suspense. He was holding them in the palm of his hand. Only thing was, they didn't look all that scared or worried or ready to gnaw off their fingernails. A real cool bunch.

BOOK: Riptide
3.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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