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Authors: Nora Roberts

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BOOK: Sacred Sins
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She fought her way across town while concern for a sullen young boy with bitterness in his eyes weighed on her. There were so many other things. Too many other things.

Tess knew she didn't have to sacrifice her lunch hour and hand deliver the profile to Captain Harris. She had been under no obligation to work on it until two A.M. either, but found it impossible not to.

Something pushed at her—instinct, hunch, superstition, she couldn't have said which. All she knew was that she was involved with the faceless killer as deeply as with any of her patients. The police needed whatever assistance she could give to help them understand him, and needed to understand him in order to catch him. He had to be caught so he could be helped.

As she pulled into the station's lot she took a quick scan. No Mustang. But then, she reminded herself as she stepped out of her car, that wasn't why she'd come. Then again, she wasn't sure why she'd agreed to go out with Ben Paris, since she considered him arrogant and difficult, and her workload was jamming up with the extra time she was taking on the homicides. She knew if she put in a couple of hours that evening, she could have things running fairly smoothly again. Several times that day she had thought about phoning him and begging off.

What's more, dating wasn't something Tess approached with much enthusiasm. The singles' scene was a tough, nasty circle that usually left everyone involved frustrated or frazzled. She was automatically put off by the slick here-I-am, aren't-you-lucky type. Frank. Nor did she have any illusions about the fanatically casual, let's-not-talk-commitment sort. Like the public defender she'd seen occasionally last spring.

It wasn't that men didn't interest her, it was simply that most of the men she'd met couldn't hold her interest. When your expectations were high, disappointment came easily. All in all it was easier to stay home with an old movie or a fat briefcase.

But she wasn't going to beg off. Tess told herself it
would be rude to break a date on such short notice—even a date she knew had been made on impulse by both parties. She'd go, enjoy the play, then say good night. She'd work over the weekend.

When she walked into Homicide she took a quick look at who was sitting at a desk, who was walking from place to place. Someone had his head stuck in a small, scarred refrigerator, but when he straightened, he was a stranger.

Ben wasn't there, but she saw a variety of styles in the cops who were. Suits and ties, jeans and sweaters, boots and sneakers. The one thing that seemed universal was the shoulder holster. It seemed to her to fall far short of the glamor of the sword.

A glance at Harris's office showed her it was empty.

“Dr. Court?”

She stopped and looked over at a man just rising from a typewriter. “Yes.”

“I'm Detective Roderick. If you're looking for Captain Harris, he's in a meeting with the chief.”

“I see.” He was the suit-and-tie sort, she observed. Though his jacket was slung over the back of his chair, his tie was neat and straight. She decided Ben would never wear one. “Is he expected back?”

“Yes. If you'd like to wait, he shouldn't be too much longer.” He grinned, remembering the day before. “I can get you some coffee.”

“Ah…” She looked at her watch. Her next patient was due in forty minutes. It would take her half of that to get back to her office. “No, thanks. I don't have much time myself. I have a report for the captain.”

“The profile. You can give it to me.” When he saw her hesitation, he went on, “I'm assigned to the case, Dr. Court.”

“Sorry. I'd appreciate it if you could see Captain Harris gets this as soon as he comes in.” Unzipping her
briefcase, Tess drew out the file. “If he has any questions, he can reach me in my office until five, then at home until seven. I don't suppose you can tell me if there's been any progress?”

“I wish I could. At this point we're going back over the same ground, hoping we missed something the first half-a-dozen times.”

Tess glanced at the file and wondered if he could really understand the man she'd written about. Could anyone? Dissatisfied, she nodded and handed over the file. It looked harmless, but so did a bomb at rest.

“Thank you.”

A lady, he thought. You began to miss seeing the real thing in this line of work. “Sure. You have a message for the captain?”

“No. Everything's in the file. Thanks again, Detective.”

Lowenstein waited until Tess was out of earshot. “That the psychiatrist?”

Roderick ran the folder through his fingers before he set it on his desk. “Yeah. Brought in the profile for Harris.”

“Looks like
Harper's Bazaar
,” Lowenstein murmured. “Classy, though I heard she left with Paris last night.” With a chuckle she gave Roderick a pat on the arm. “She raise your blood pressure, Lou?”

Embarrassed, he shrugged. “I was thinking of something else.”

Lowenstein stuck her tongue in her cheek. “Sure. Well, I hope she knows her stuff. Better than a Ouija board, I guess.” She flung her bag over her shoulder. “Bigsby and I are going to interview some of the regulars at Doug's. Keep the home fires burning.”

“Bring back a lead, Maggie.” Roderick dropped back in his chair. “Or we might just have to haul out the Ouija board.”

Tess had turned the second corner when she heard someone cursing. When she looked back, she saw Ben giving a vending machine a hefty kick.

“Sonofabitch.”

“Ben.” Ed put a hand on his shoulder. “That's stuff's poison to your system. Forget it. Your body'll thank you.”

“I've got fifty cents in there.” Putting his hands on either side of the machine, Ben shook it and swore again. “Fifty fucking cents is robbery in the first place for a skinny piece of chocolate and a few nuts.”

“You oughta try raisins,” Ed suggested. “Natural sugar. Full of iron.”

Ben gritted his teeth. “I hate raisins, nothing but dried grapes.”

“Detective Paris.” Unable to resist, Tess had backtracked down the corridor. “Do you always have fights with inanimate objects?”

He turned his head but didn't loosen his grip on the machine. “When they hassle me.” He gave the machine another violent shake, but he looked at her.

She wasn't wet today, he noticed. And she'd pinned her hair up and back in a cool, sleek style that made him think of elegant pastries under crystal. Maybe she thought it was professional, but it made his mouth water.

“You look good, Doc.”

“Thank you. Hello, Detective Jackson.”

“Ma'am.” He put a hand back on Ben's shoulder. “I can't tell you how embarrassed I am for my partner.”

“That's perfectly all right. I'm used to behavioral problems.”

“Shit.” Ben gave the machine one last shove, then turned away from it. The first chance he got he was going to pick the lock. “Were you looking for me?”

Tess thought of her scan of the parking lot, then the squad room. She decided on tact rather than truth. “No, I brought in the profile for Captain Harris.”

“You work fast.”

“If I'd had more to work with, it would've taken longer.” With a movement of her shoulders, she expressed both acceptance and dissatisfaction. “I don't know how much help I've been. I'd like to do more.”

“Our job,” Ben reminded her.

“Hi, guys.” Lowenstein passed by and stuck change in the vending machine. In fact she wanted a closer look at the psychiatrist more than she wanted candy. She would have bet a week's pay the rose-colored suit was silk.

“That sucker's defective,” Ben told her, but when she pulled the handle, two candy bars dropped into the tray.

“Two for one,” Lowenstein said, plopping both in her bag. “See you later.”

“Wait a minute—”

“You don't want to make a scene in front of Dr. Court,” Ed reminded him.

“Lowenstein's got my property.”

“You're better off. Sugar'll kill you.” “This is all fascinating,” Tess said dryly as she watched Ben glare at Lowenstein's back. “But I'm pressed for time. I want you to know that I had a suggestion. It's included in my report to the captain.”

Ben stuck his hands in his pockets and looked back at her. “Which is?”

“You need a priest.”

“We've gone that route, Doctor. Ed and I've interviewed a dozen of them.”

“With experience in psychiatry,” Tess finished. “I've given you what I can, but I'm not qualified to probe deeply into the religious angle. And that, in my judgment, is the key.” Her glance skimmed over Ed, but she knew whose opinion she had to sway. “I could research Catholicism, but it would take time. I don't think any of
us wants to waste that. I know of a doctor at Catholic University, Monsignor Logan. He has an excellent reputation in the Church and in psychiatric medicine. I want to consult with him.”

“The more people we consult with,” Ben put in, “the more chance there is of a leak. We can't let the specifics get to the press.”

“And if you don't try something else, your investigation's going to stay right where it is. Stagnant.” She saw the annoyance and rolled over it. “I could go to the mayor, put on the pressure, but that's not the way I want to handle it. I want you to back me on this, Ben.”

He rocked back on his heels. Another shrink, he thought. And a priest at that. But as much as he hated to admit it, the investigation was stagnant. If she wanted to pull a rabbit out of her hat, they might as well look it over. “I'll talk to the captain.”

The smile came easily after victory. “Thanks.” She pulled out her wallet and dropped change into the machine behind him. After brief consideration, she pulled a handle. With a quiet plop a Hershey bar dropped into the tray. “Here you go.” Solemn-eyed, she handed it to Ben. “You really broke my heart. Nice to see you again, Detective Jackson.”

“My pleasure, ma'am.” A grin split his face as he watched her walk away. “Handles herself real well, doesn't she?”

Scowling, Ben tossed the candy bar from hand to hand. “Oh, yeah,” he murmured. “Like a pro.”

I
T
wasn't like her to fuss about clothes. The truth was, her wardrobe had been meticulously chosen, down to the last cashmere sweater and linen blazer, for the specific reason that Tess didn't have the patience to debate each morning about what to wear. For the most part she
stuck with classic styles and blendable colors because they looked best on her and it made it simple to put her hand in her closet and draw out the next thing in line on harried mornings.

But she wasn't dressing for the office. As Tess shoved the third dress back on the hanger, she reminded herself she wasn't dressing for Prince Charming either. At twenty-nine she knew there were no princes, nor did a rational woman want an ivory tower. An uncomplicated date with an attractive man who made you think on your feet was a different matter, and Ben Paris certainly made her think.

A glance at her watch warned her she was doing so much thinking she was going to be late. Standing in a brief flesh-colored teddy, she took out a black silk dress and gave it a critical study. Simple but elegant. A wise choice, she decided, and she didn't have time to fool around anymore. She slipped it on and did up the range of buttons that ran from waist to neck.

Another long survey in the cheval glass brought a nod of approval. Yes, she thought, this was better than the ice blue she'd started with or the raspberry georgette she'd just rejected. She settled on her mother's diamond studs and the thin gold bracelet her grandfather had given her when she'd earned her degree. She debated about sweeping her hair up, but the knock on the door decided for her. It had to stay down.

She hadn't expected he could look elegant. But when she opened the door, his steel-gray suit and salmon-colored shirt proved her wrong. Still, she'd been right about the tie. His collar was open. She started to smile at him, then saw the clutch of violets in his hand. It wasn't like her to be tossed so off balance, but when she looked back up at him, she felt like a teenager with her first handful of wilted flowers.

“Peace offering,” Ben told her, feeling every bit as
unsettled and out of character as Tess. He shouldn't have been, he told himself, since he was used to making grandiose or impulsive gestures with the women he dated. It was his way. Tracking down a nosegay of violets in October hadn't seemed a foolish thing to do until he'd stood there, offering them.

“They're lovely. Thank you.” Regaining her balance, she smiled at him, accepting the flowers as she stood back to let him in. The scent reminded her of the spring that was so far on the other side of winter. “I'll get a vase.”

As she walked into the kitchen, Ben looked around. He saw the Matisse print, the Turkish rugs, the neat petit point pillows. Soft, pretty colors, and old distinguished wood. It was a room that spoke of quiet, generational wealth.

What the hell are you doing here? he asked himself. Her grandfather's a senator. Yours was a butcher. She grew up with servants, and your mother still scrubs her own john. She graduated with honors from Smith, and you crammed your way through two years of college before the Academy.

Oh, he'd researched her all right. That was also his way. And he was dead sure they'd run out of conversation after fifteen minutes.

BOOK: Sacred Sins
7.56Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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