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Authors: Nora Roberts

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BOOK: Sacred Sins
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I
T
was still drizzling when they turned back into the parking lot at headquarters. The gloom had brought the dark quickly, so that puddles shone beneath streetlights and the sidewalks were wet and deserted. Washington kept early hours. She'd waited until now to ask him what she'd wondered all evening.

“Ben, why did you become a cop?”

“I told you, I like catching bad guys.”

The seed of truth was there, she thought, but not the whole. “So you grew up playing cops and robbers, and decided to keep right on playing?”

“I always played doctor.” He pulled up beside her car and set the brake. “It was educational.”

“I'm sure. Then why the switch to public service?”

He could've been glib, he could've evaded. Part of his charm for women was his ability to do both with an easy smile. Somehow, for once, he wanted to tell the simple truth. “All right, now I've a quote for you. ‘The law is but words and paper without the hands and swords of men.’” With a half smile he turned to see her studying him calmly. “Words and paper aren't my way of handling things.”

“And the sword is?”

“That's right.” He leaned over to open her door. Their bodies brushed but neither acknowledged the physical tug. “I believe in justice, Tess. It's a hell of a lot more than words on paper.”

She sat a moment, digesting. There was violence in him, ordered and controlled. Perhaps the word was
trained
, but it was violence nonetheless. He'd certainly killed, something her education and personality completely rejected. He'd taken lives, risked his own. And he believed in law and order and justice. Just as he believed in the sword.

He wasn't the simple man she'd first pegged him to be. It was a lot to learn in one evening. More than enough, she thought, and slid aside.

“Well, thanks for the drink, Detective.”

As she pushed out of the car, Ben was out on the other side. “Don't you have an umbrella?”

She sent him an easy smile as she dug for her keys. “I never carry it when it rains.”

Hands in his back pockets, he sauntered over to her. For reasons he couln't pinpoint, he was reluctant to let
her go. “Wonder what a head doctor would make of that?”

“You don't have one either. Good night, Ben.”

He knew she wasn't the shallow, overeducated sophisticate he'd labeled her. He found himself holding her door open after she'd slid into the driver's seat. “I've got this friend who works at the Kennedy Center. He passed me a couple of tickets for the Noel Coward play tomorrow night. Interested?”

It was on the tip of her tongue to refuse, politely. Oil and water didn't mix. Neither did business and pleasure. “Yes, I'm interested.”

Because he wasn't sure how he felt about her agreement, he just nodded. “I'll pick you up at seven.”

When he slammed her door shut, she rolled down the window. “Don't you want my address?”

He sent her a cocky smile she should've detested. “I'm a detective.”

When he strolled back to his car, Tess found herself laughing.

B
Y
ten the rain had stopped. Absorbed in the profile she was compiling, Tess didn't notice the quiet, or the dull light from the moon. The take-out Chinese had slipped her mind, and her dinner of a roast beef sandwich was half eaten and forgotten.

Fascinating. She read over the reports again. Fascinating and chilling. How did he choose his victims? she wondered. All blond, all late twenties, all small to medium builds. Who did they symbolize to him, and why?

Did he watch them, follow them? Did he choose them arbitrarily? Maybe the hair color and build were simply coincidence. Any woman alone at night could end up being
saved
.

No. It was a pattern, she was sure of it. Somehow he selected each victim because of general physical appearance. Then he managed to peg her routine. Three killings, and he hadn't made one mistake. He was ill, but he was methodical.

Blond, late twenties, small to medium build. She found herself staring at her own vague reflection in the window. Hadn't she just described herself?

The knock at the door jolted her, then she cursed her foolishness. She checked her watch for the first time since she'd sat down, and saw she'd worked for three hours straight. Another two and she might have something to give Captain Harris. Whoever was at the door was going to have to make it quick.

Letting her glasses drop on the pile of papers, she went to answer. “Grandpa.” Annoyance evaporated as she rose on her toes to kiss him with the gusto he'd helped instill in her life. He smelled of peppermint and Old Spice and carried himself like a general. “You're out late.”

“Late?” His voice boomed. It always had. Off the walls of the kitchen where he fried up fresh fish, at a ball game where he cheered for whatever team suited his whim, on the floor of the Senate where he'd served for twenty-five years. “It's barely ten. I'm not ready for a lap robe and warm milk yet, little girl. Fix me a drink.”

He was already in and shrugging his six-foot line-man's frame out of his coat. He was seventy-two, Tess thought as she glanced at the wild mane of white hair and leathered face. Seventy-two and he had more energy than the men she dated. And certainly more interest. Maybe the reason she was still single and content to be so was because she had such high standards in men. She poured him three fingers of scotch.

He looked over at the desk piled with papers and
folders and notes. That was his Tess, he thought as he took the glass from her. Always one to dig in her heels and get the job done. He didn't miss the half-eaten sandwich either. That was also his Tess. “So.” He tossed back scotch. “What do you know about this maniac we've got on our hands?”

“Senator.” Tess used her most professional voice as she sat on the arm of a chair. “You know I can't discuss this with you.”

“Bullshit. I got you the job.”

“For which I'm not going to thank you.”

He gave her one of his steely looks. Veteran politicians had been known to cringe from it. “I'll get it from the mayor anyway.”

Instead of cringing, Tess offered her sweetest smile. “From the mayor, then.”

“Damn ethics,” he muttered.

“You taught them to me.”

He grunted, pleased with her. “What about Captain Harris? An opinion.”

She sat a moment, brooding as she did when gathering her thoughts. “Competent, controlled. He's angry and frustrated and under a great deal of pressure, but he manages to keep it all on a leash.”

“What about the detectives in charge of the case?”

“Paris and Jackson.” She ran the tip of her tongue along her teeth. “They struck me as an unusual pair, yet very much a pair. Jackson looks like a mountain man. He asked typical questions, but he listens very well. He strikes me as the methodical type. Paris…” She hesitated, not as sure of her ground. “He's restless, and I think more volatile. Intelligent, but more instinctive than methodical. Or maybe more emotional.” She thought of justice, and a sword.

“Are they competent?”

“I don't know how to judge that, Grandpa. If I went
on impression, I'd say they're dedicated. But even that's only an impression.”

“The mayor has a great deal of faith in them.” He downed the rest of his scotch. “And in you.”

She focused on him again, eyes grave. “I don't know if it's warranted. This man's very disturbed, Grandpa. Dangerous. I may be able to give them a sketch of his mind, his emotional pattern, but that isn't going to stop him. Guessing games.” Rising, she stuck her hands in her pockets. “It's all just a guessing game.”

“It's always just a guessing game, Tess. You know there are no guarantees, no absolutes.”

She knew, but she didn't like it. She never had. “He needs help, Grandpa. He's screaming for it, but no one can hear him.”

He put a hand under his chin. “He's not your patient, Tess.”

“No, but I'm involved.” When she saw the frown crease his brow, she changed her tone. “Don't start worrying, I'm not going to go overboard.”

“You told me that once about a box full of kittens. They ended up costing me more than a good suit.”

She kissed his cheek again, then picked up his coat. “And you loved every one of them. Now I've got work to do.”

“Kicking me out?”

“Just helping you with your coat,” she corrected. “Good night, Grandpa.”

“Behave yourself, little girl.”

She closed the door on him, remembering he'd been telling her the same thing since she was five.

T
HE
church was dark and empty, but it hadn't been difficult for him to deal with the lock. Nor did he feel he'd sinned in doing so. Churches weren't meant to be
locked. God's house was meant to be open for the needy, for the troubled, for the reverent.

He lit the candles, four of them—one for each of the women he'd saved, and the last for the woman he hadn't been able to save.

Dropping to his knees, he prayed, and his prayers were desperate. Sometimes, only sometimes, when he thought of the mission, he doubted. A life was sacred. He'd taken three and knew the world looked on him as a monster. If those he worked with knew, they'd scorn him, put him in prison, detest him. Pity him.

But flesh was transient. A life was only sacred because of the soul. It was the soul he saved. The soul he must continue to save until he'd balanced the scales. Doubting, he knew, was a sin in itself.

If only he had someone to talk to. If only there were someone to understand, to give him comfort. A wave of despair washed over him, hot and thick. Giving in would have been a relief. There was no one, no one he could trust. No one to share this burden. When the Voice was silent, he was so alone.

He'd lost Laura. Laura had lost herself and taken pieces of him with her. The best pieces. Sometimes, when it was dark, when it was quiet, he could see her. She never laughed anymore. Her face was so pale, so full of pain. Lighting candles in empty churches would never wipe away the pain. Or the sin.

She was in the dark, waiting. When his mission was complete, only then would she be free.

The smell of votive candles burning, the hushed silence of church, and the silhouettes of statues soothed him. Here he might find hope and a place. He'd always found such comfort in the symbols of religion, and the boundaries.

Lowering his head to the rail, he prayed more
fervently. As he'd been taught, he prayed for the grace to accept whatever trials were ahead of him.

When he rose, the candlelight flickered over the white collar at his throat. He blew them out, and it was dark again.

Chapter 3

W
ASHINGTON TRAFFIC COULD
tear at the nerves—especially when you'd woken up sluggish, primed yourself with coffee, then handled back-to-back appointments. Tess inched along behind a Pinto with a faulty exhaust, and simmered through another red light. Beside her a man in a big blue GMC revved his engine. It disappointed him when she didn't bother to glance over.

She was worried about Joey Higgins. Two months of therapy and she wasn't any closer to the real problem, or more accurately, the real answer. A fourteen-year-old boy shouldn't be clinically depressed, but out playing third base. Today she'd felt he'd been on the verge of really opening up to her. On the verge, Tess thought with a sigh. But he hadn't yet crossed the line. Building his confidence, his self-esteem, was like building the pyramids. Step by agonizing step. If she could just get to the point where she had his full trust…

BOOK: Sacred Sins
4.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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