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Authors: Beverly Barton

The Last to Die

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COLD-BLOODED KILLER

The Con-g-re-ga-ti-onal Church was pac-ked to ca-pa-city, the san-c-tu-ary and the ves-ti-bu-le. A crowd had gat-he-red out-si-de on the front steps and down the si-de-walk. She knew that the-se pe-op-le we-ren't he-re to show the-ir res-pects to Jamie. Not many pe-op-le had li-ked Jamie. Qu-ite a few had des-pi-sed him. And se-ve-ral had ha-ted him, as she had. The hu-ge out-po-uring of sympathy was for Big Jim and Miss Re-ba.

The she-riff and the chi-ef of po-li-ce we-re he-re, re-min-ding ever-yo-ne that Jamie had be-en mur-de-red. Tor-tu-red I and tor-men-ted. Ma-de to suf-fer. Pu-nis-hed for his sins. She'd se-en to that.

She'd ma-de su-re he wo-uld ne-ver hurt her, her child, or any ot-her wo-man-not ever aga-in. Jaz-zy Tal-bot was con-s-pi-cu-o-usly ab-sent. Go-od. She'd ha-ted to think that wor-t-h-less slut wo-uld da-re show her fa-ce.

As she wat-c-hed whi-le ot-hers pa-ra-ded by Jamie's clo-sed cas-ket, she had to fight the ur-ge to smi-le-even la-ugh. She had des-t-ro-yed his pretty fa-ce and si-len-ced his lying mo-uth. And now Jaz-zy was suf-fe-ring.

But not ne-arly as much as she wo-uld suf-fer. The wo-man had to die. De-ser-ved to die. Wo-uld die. But not yet.

When this all ca-me to an end and ever-y-t-hing was as it i sho-uld be, Jaz-zy wo-uld be…

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AFTER DARK

EVERY MOVE SHE MAKES

WHAT SHE DOESN'T KNOW

THE FIFTH VICTIM

THE LAST TO DIE

Published by Zebra Books

The Last to Die

Beverly Barton

CONTENTS

Pro-lo-gue

Chap-ter 1

Chap-ter 2

Chap-ter 3

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Chap-ter 4

Chap-ter 5

Chap-ter 6

Chap-ter 7

Chap-ter 8

Chap-ter 9

Chap-ter 10

Chap-ter 11

Chap-ter 12

Chap-ter 13

Chap-ter 14

Chap-ter 15

Chap-ter 16

Chap-ter 17

Chap-ter 18

Chap-ter 19

Chap-ter 20

Chap-ter 21

Chap-ter 22

Chap-ter 23

Chap-ter 24

Chap-ter 25

Chap-ter 26

Chap-ter 27

Chap-ter 28

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Chap-ter 29

Chap-ter 30

Epi-lo-gue

AS GO-OD AS DE-AD.

ZEBRA BOOKS

KENSINGTON PUBUSHING CORP

http://www.kensingtonbooks.com

ZEBRA BO-OKS are pub-lis-hed by Ken-sin-g-ton Pub-lis-hing Corp. 850 Third Ave-nue New York, NY Cop-y-right © 2004 by Be-verly Be-aver All rights re-ser-ved. No part of this bo-ok may be rep-ro-du-ced in any form or by any me-ans wit-ho-ut the pri-or writ-ten con-sent of the Pub-lis-her, ex-cep-ting bri-ef qu-otes used in re-vi-ews.

If you pur-c-ha-sed this bo-ok wit-ho-ut a co-ver, you sho-uld be awa-re mat this bo-ok is sto-len pro-perty. It was re-por-ted as "unsold and des-t-ro-yed" to the Pub-lis-her and ne-it-her the Aut-hor nor the Pub-lis-her has re-ce-ived any pay-ment for this "strip-ped bo-ok."

All Ken-sin-g-ton tit-les, im-p-rints, and dis-t-ri-bu-ted li-nes are ava-ilab-le at spe-ci-al qu-an-tity dis-co-unts for bulk pur-c-ha-ses for sa-les pro-mo-ti-ons, pre-mi-ums, fund-ra-ising, edu-ca-ti-onal or in-s-ti-tu-ti-onal use.

Special bo-ok ex-cerpts or cus-to-mi-zed prin-tings can al-so be cre-ated to fit spe-ci-fic ne-eds.

For de-ta-ils, wri-te or pho-ne the of-fi-ce of the Ken-sin-g-ton Spe-ci-al Sa-les Ma-na-ger: Ken-sin-g-ton Pub-lis-hing Corp., 850 Third Ave-nue, New York, NY 10022. Attn: Spe-ci-al Sa-les De-par-t-ment, Pho-ne: 1-800-221-2647.

Zebra and the Z lo-go Reg. U.S. Pat. & TM Off.

First Prin-ting: Janu-ary 2004 10 98765432 Prin-ted in the Uni-ted Sta-tes of Ame-ri-ca In me-mory of a very "Spe-ci-al lady, an avid re-ader and a fel-low Tus-cum-bi-an who ne-ver mis-sed one of my autog-rap-hings.

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In memory of a very "Special lady, an avid reader and a fellow Tuscumbian who never missed one of my

autographings,

JAN WHITTLE

and

In memory of my dear cousin

LOUISE GIBBS THORNE,

a fellow writer whose weekly column appeared in

The Colbert County Reporter

for many years.

A very special thank you to my wonderful editor

JOHN SCOGNAMIGLIO

And several dear friends who understand

the life of a writer

and help keep me sane,

LINDA L, WENDY, and PAULA

Prologue

He po-un-ded on her do-or and sho-uted her na-me.
Go away
, she wan-ted to scre-am.
Le-ave me
the hell alo-ne
. But she knew he wo-uldn't go. Not un-less so-me-one ca-me and drag-ged him away.

Maybe she sho-uld call Jacob and tell him that Jamie was ha-ras-sing her aga-in. As the co-unty she-riff, he co-uld hold Jamie in ja-il over-night Or she co-uld pho-ne Ca-leb and ask for his help in get-ting rid of an un-wan-ted mid-night vi-si-tor. Ca-leb had got-ten plenty of prac-ti-ce la-tely as the bo-un-cer at Jaz-zy's Jo-int. He'd thrown Jamie out of the pla-ce se-ve-ral ti-mes re-cently.

But for so-me re-ason, she just co-uldn't bring her-self to pick up the te-lep-ho-ne. It wasn't that she wan-ted to see Jamie. Not to-night of all nights. But she'd be-en ex-pec-ting him, had known so-mew-he-re de-ep down in-si-de her that he wo-uld pay her a vi-sit af-ter his en-ga-ge-ment party en-ded.

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"Jazzy… lo-ver, ple-ase, let me in."

His vo-ice was slightly slur-red, no do-ubt the re-sult of nu-me-ro-us glas-ses of cham-pag-ne, and not the twenty8 dol-lars-a-bot-tle stuff eit-her. Pro-bably Mo-et's, Dom Pe-rig-non or Ta-it-tin-ger Com-tes des Cham-pag-nes. Or pos-sibly Ro-ede-rer Cris-tal or Pom-mery Cu-vee Lo-u-ise.

So-met-hing that cost no less than eighty bucks a bot-tle. In hos-ting the big bash ce-leb-ra-ting the-ir only gran-d-c-hild's up-co-ming nup-ti-als, Big Jim and Re-ba Up-ton had spa-red no ex-pen-se.

Ever-y-body in Che-ro-kee Po-in-te had be-en tal-king of not-hing el-se. The Up-tons had hi-red a ca-te-ring ser-vi-ce out of Knox-vil-le for the en-ga-ge-ment party and the re-he-ar-sal din-ner, the sa-me ser-vi-ce the bri-de's pa-rents had cho-sen to ca-ter the wed-ding re-cep-ti-on next month.

While Jamie con-ti-nu-ed ban-ging on the do-or and ple-ading with her to talk to him, Jaz-zy cur-led up tightly on the so-fa and pla-ced her hands over her ears. Jamie had be-en en-ga-ged twi-ce be-fo-re and hadn't fol-lo-wed thro-ugh with wed-ding plans eit-her ti-me. But it lo-oked as if his en-ga-ge-ment to La-ura Wil-lis might ac-tu-al-ly end in mar-ri-age. If for one mi-nu-te she be-li-eved Jamie's mar-rying anot-her wo-man wo-uld put an end to his ob-ses-si-on with her, she'd be the first in li-ne to of-fer them con-g-ra-tu-la-ti-ons.

Sure, the-re had be-en a ti-me when she'd dre-amed of be-co-ming Jamie's wi-fe, but that had be-en ye-ars ago, when she'd be-en yo-ung and fo-olish. That stu-pid dre-am had di-ed a slow, pa-in-ful de-ath as ma-tu-rity had gi-ven her a firm grip on re-ality. No way wo-uld Jamie's rich and so-ci-al-ly pro-mi-nent fa-mily ever ac-cept her; they still saw her as not-hing but a whi-te trash tramp who'd got-ten preg-nant at six-te-en.

Did she still ca-re abo-ut Jamie? Ye-ah, so-mew-he-re in her he-art rem-nants of that pas-si-ona-te first lo-ve still exis-ted. Only a few ye-ars ago, she had still be-en as ob-ses-sed with Jamie as he was with her. For the past ten ye-ars he had flo-ated in and out of her li-fe, just as he had flo-ated in and out of town. But this ti-me, when he'd re tur-ned a few months ago with a new fi-an-c-ée in tow, Jaz-zy had tur-ned him away when he'd co-me to her. And one night, when he hadn't ta-ken no for an an-s-wer, she had thre-ate-ned his li-fe. Or, to be mo-re pre-ci-se, she'd thre-ate-ned his man-ho-od. And what truly frig-h-te-ned her was the re-ali-za-ti-on that she wo-uld ha-ve shot him- shot his balls off-if he'd co-me af-ter her aga-in.

'Jazzy… don't be me-an. Ple-ase, doll baby, let me co-me in. Just one last ti-me. Don't you know how much I lo-ve you?"

No, damn you, no! You don't lo-ve me! You ne-ver did. You’re not ca-pab-le of lo-ving an-yo-ne
ex-cept yo-ur-self.

While she sat on the so-fa, hug-ging her-self, wis-hing she co-uld block out the so-und of Jamie's ple-ading, me-mo-ri-es was-hed over her, flo-oding her sen-ses. The first ti-me Jamie had kis-sed her.

The juni-or/se-ni-or prom, when she'd gi-ven him her vir-gi-nity and had known she wo-uld lo-ve Jamie fo-re-ver. The day he'd cri-ed when he told her he co-uldn't marry her even tho-ugh she was car-rying his child. The night he had re-tur-ned to Che-ro-kee Po-in-te af-ter his first ye-ar of col-le-ge. They'd ma-de lo-ve re-pe-atedly for for-ty-eight ho-urs, le-aving bed only when ne-ces-sary. The first re-turn vi-sit, ye-ars ago, when he'd bro-ught ho-me his first fi-an-c-ée-and Jaz-zy had wel-co-med him in-to her arms, in-to her bed, not ca-ring abo-ut his bri-de to be.

How many ti-mes had she for-gi-ven Jamie? How many ti-mes had she gi-ven him just one mo-re chan-ce? Ti-me had run out for them. She knew it, even if he didn't. She'd turn thirty so-on; she had
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was-ted eno-ugh of her li-fe wa-iting for Jamie Up-ton to gi-ve her what she wan-ted, what she'd al-ways wan-ted from him. Mar-ri-age.

'Jazzy.. -Jaz-zy… baby, ple-ase, talk to me. Even if I marry La-ura, it do-esn't me-an we can't still be to-get-her."

A cold, de-adly calm set-tled over her he-art. She sto-od, squ-ared her sho-ul-ders and wal-ked to the do-or. Her hand ho-ve-red over the knob.
You’re the only one who can end this thing on-ce and
for all, she told her-self. Do what you ha-ve to do to free yo-ur-self from Jamie.

Simultaneously Jaz-zy un-loc-ked the de-ad-bolt and tur-ned the knob. When she eased open the do-or, Jamie to-ok full ad-van-ta-ge and sho-ved his way in-to her apar-t-ment. Be-fo-re she co-uld say a word, he grab-bed her and kis-sed her. Im-pa-ti-ently. Bru-tal-ly. His ton-gue thrust in-si-de her mo-uth. For a split se-cond, she sa-vo-red his sa-va-ge pos-ses-si-on. Then com-mon sen-se to-ok char-ge. She bro-ke away from him, her bre-at-hing rag-ged. He re-ac-hed out for her, but she si-des-tep-ped his grasp.

"I ne-ed you, Jaz-zy. I'm ac-hing, I want you so bad."

"What we on-ce had is over," she told him. "It's be-en over for a long ti-me. I've ac-cep-ted that fact.

It's ti-me you did."

"I don't lo-ve her. I'm mar-rying her be-ca-use Big Ma-ma is gi-ving me no ot-her cho-ice. She ex-pects me to marry La-ura."

Jazzy la-ug-hed, mir-t-h-less chuc-k-les. "And God for-bid you ever go aga-inst what Big Ma-ma wants."

"I'm sorry." His sho-ul-ders slum-ped. "I know I'm a spi-ne-less bas-tard. But if I don't ke-ep Big Ma-ma happy, I co-uld lo-se ever-y-t-hing. Big Daddy's do-ne told me this is my last chan-ce. If I screw things up with La-ura, he'll wri-te me out of his will."

Jazzy al-most felt sorry for him. Al-most. "You know I'll ne-ver be yo-ur mis-t-ress. I draw the li-ne at fo-oling aro-und with a mar-ri-ed man."

Lifting his ga-ze from whe-re he'd be-en sta-ring at the flo-or, he lo-oked di-rectly at her. "Wo-uld you let me stay to-night? Just for a lit-tle whi-le. A co-up-le of ho-urs." He held up his arms in an "I sur-ren-der" ges-tu-re. "Just let me hold you. I swe-ar, I won't do an-y-t-hing you don't want me to do. I ne-ed you, Jaz-zy. One last ti-me. Ple-ase, lo-ver. Ple-ase."

Against her bet-ter jud-g-ment, she nod-ded. "You can stay an ho-ur. That's all." When he ope-ned his arms to her, she sho-ok her he-ad. "Sit down on the so-fa. I'll fix us so-me cof-fee. I think you co-uld use so-me. You sho-uld so-ber up be-fo-re you he-ad ho-me and try to ex-p-la-in to yo-ur fi-an-c-ée whe-re you've be-en."

"Hey, ho-ney, if you're plan-ning on get-ting yo-ur gun whi-le the cof-fee is bre-wing, the-re's no ne-ed. Be-li-eve it or not, I want us to be fri-ends. I'd pre-fer lo-vers, but I'll set-tle for fri-ends. I just can't ima-gi-ne my li-fe wit-ho-ut you in it."

Oh, hell. Why had he sa-id that?
Don't go soft. Not now. You've he-ard Jamie's li-ne of bull
be-fo-re. You know the guy can swe-et talk his way out of any jam-or in-to any wo-man's bed.
But
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BOOK: The Last to Die
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