She'd gotten through the entire evening without killing anyone. Lieutenant Eve Dallas, cop to the bone, figured the restraint showed enormous strength of character.
Her day had gone smoothly enough. A morning court appearance that had been as routine as it was tedious, paperwork both extensive and mind-numbing. The single case she'd caught had involved pals and their dispute over who had dibs on the last of the illegals-a party mix of Buzz, Exotica, and Zoom-they'd been toking on while lazing around on the roof of an apartment building on the West Side.
The dispute had been resolved when one of the afternoon partyers had taken a header off the roof, clutching the last of the illegals in his greedy fist.
He probably hadn't felt much, even when he'd splatted onto Tenth Avenue, but it sure as hell had broken the party mood.
Witnesses, including an uninvolved Good Samaritan from a neighboring building who'd called in the nine-one-one, all stated that the individual who'd been scooped off the sidewalk and into a bag had leaped of his own volition onto the roof ledge, danced an energetic keep-away boogie, lost his precarious balance, and taken flight with a giggling wee-haw.
Much to the surprise-and possible entertainment-of the afternoon passengers on an airtram who'd also witnessed the last dance of one Jasper K. McKinney.
One inappropriately delighted tourist had managed to capture the entire incident on his pocket vid.
It all jibed, and the books would close on Jasper as death by misadventure. Unofficially, Eve labeled it death by stupidity, but there wasn't a place on the sheet for that particular observation.
As a result of Jasper and his eight-story dive, she'd clocked out of Cop Central barely an hour past end-of-duty, only to get bogged down in ugly midtown traffic because the temporary vehicle some sadist in Requisitions had tossed at her limped along like a blind, three-legged dog.
She had rank, for God's sake, and was entitled to a decent ride. It wasn't her fault she'd had two units destroyed in two years. Maybe she'd forget strength of character and go maim somebody in Requisitions in the morning.
It sounded like fun.
And after she'd gotten home-okay, almost two hours late-she'd had to transform herself from kick-ass murder cop to fashionable corporate wife.
She was a good cop, she reminded herself, but more than a little shaky in the corporate wife arena.
She supposed she'd been fashionable, since her husband had the entire getup-down to the underwear-set out for her. Roarke knew clothes.
She just knew she was wearing something green with sparkles all over it, and where it wasn't green and sparkly, it showed a lot of skin.
There hadn't been time to argue about it, but only to dive into the outfit and shove her feet into shoes-also green and sparkly. With high enough, needle-thin heels, she'd been nearly eye to eye with her man.
It wasn't a hardship to be eye to eye with Roarke. Not when his were that wild, unearthly blue in a face drawn by artistic angels. But it was tough being social with strangers when you were worried you might tip over and fall on your ass any second.
But she'd gotten through it. Through the quick-change, the quick shuttle trip from New York to Chicago, through the cocktail hour where her brains were nearly bored to suet despite truly excellent wine, and the corporate dinner with Roarke entertaining about a dozen clients, with her playing hostess.
She wasn't quite sure what kind of clients they were since Roarke had his fingers in every pie known to man or beast, so she didn't attempt to keep up. What she did know was that most of them could take the prize for most tedious during the four-hour ordeal.
But there had been no casualties.
Points for her.
What she wanted now was to get home, get out of the sparkly green thing, and fall into bed to sleep for the six hours she'd have before the clock started ticking again.
The summer of 2059 had been long, hot, and bloody. Fall, with its cooler temperatures, was coming. Maybe people wouldn't be as inclined to kill one another.
But she doubted it.
She'd barely settled into her seat on the plush, private shuttle when Roarke lifted her feet into his lap and slipped off her shoes.
"Don't get any ideas, pal. When I finally get out of this dress, I'm not getting back in."
"Darling Eve." His voice was a purr that echoed of Ireland. "That's the sort of statement that gives me ideas. However lovely you look in that dress, you'd look even lovelier out of it."
"Forget it. No way I'm dragging this thing back on, and I'm surely not getting out of this shuttle wearing what you laughingly call underwear. So just...Oh, sweet baby Jesus."
Her eyes crossed, then did a slow roll to the back of her head when he pressed his thumbs into her arch.
"I owe you a foot rub, at the very least." He smiled as she let her head fall back and moaned. "For services above and beyond. I know you detest the sort of thing we did tonight. And I appreciate you not pulling out your weapon and stunning McIntyre over the canaps."
"The guy with the big teeth who laughed like a donkey, right?"
"That would be McIntyre. He's also a very important account." He lifted her left foot, kissed her toes.
"It's okay. Goes with the package."
Hell of a package, she thought, studying him through barely open eyes. All gorgeously wrapped six Feet two inches of him. Not just the lean, muscled build or the heart-stopping face framed with the sweep of black silk hair. But the brains, the style, the edge. The whole shot.
And best of all, he not only loved her, but he got her. Of all the things they fought about-and it was never hard to find something-they never butted heads over this.
He never expected any more of her in the corporate wife area than she could give. A lot of people would, and she got that. Roarke's enterprises included holdings, properties, factories, markets, and God knew, on and off planet. He was absurdly rich, with all the power that went with it. A lot of men in his position would expect a spouse to be at their beck, to drop everything and drape themselves over his arm at a moment's notice.
For every business event or social occasion she managed to attend as his wife, there were probably three she missed.
Moreover, there were countless times he arranged his schedule to suit hers, or put in time as consultant on a case.
In fact, when she thought about it, he made a much better cop's husband than she made corporate wife.
"Maybe I owe you a foot rub," she considered. "You're a pretty good deal."
He skimmed a finger down her foot, from toes to heel. "I certainly am."
"But I'm still not getting out of this dress." She scooted down in her seat, closed her eyes. "Wake me up when we land."
She'd only started to drift when the communicator in her evening bag signaled. "Oh, come on." She didn't open her eyes but reached out, clamped a hand on the bag. "What's our ETA?"
With a nod, she pulled out the communicator and engaged. "Dallas."
Dispatch, Dallas, Lieutenant Eve. Report to Belvedere Castle, Central Park. Officers on scene. Homicide, single victim.
"Contact Peabody, Detective Delia. I'll meet her on scene. My ETA is thirty minutes."
Acknowledged. Dispatch out.
"Shit." Eve dragged a hand through her hair. "You can dump me and go on."
"I dislike dumping my wife. I'll go with you and wait."
She scowled down at the fancy dress. "I hate going to scenes in these getups. I hear about it for weeks."
It was worse because she had to put the shoes back on, and then navigate in them over the grass and onto the paths of the city's greatest park.
The castle sat at the highest point of the park, with its skinny tower rising up into the night sky and the rocky ground giving way to the lake at its feet.
It was a pretty enough spot, she supposed, for tourists to take their snaps and vids during the day. Once the sun set, areas like this were the natural habitat of the street sleepers, chemi-heads, unlicensed companions on the troll, and those with nothing better to do than look for trouble.
The current city administration made a lot of noise about keeping the parks and monuments clean. And to their credit they even tossed money at the process with some regularity. There would be volunteers as well as city workers combing the park for litter, blasting off graffiti, sprucing up gardens and such.
Then everyone would get cozy and comfortable and put their efforts into other matters until it all went to hell again.
At the moment it was in decent shape with hardly enough litter to make the predawn cleanup crews work themselves into a lather.
With Roarke beside her, she strode as best she could toward the barricades the cops had already put in place. The castle was lit up like day with crime-scene lights.
"You don't have to wait," she told him. "I can catch a ride."
Rather than argue, she shrugged and pulling out her badge, went through the barricades.
No one made any comments about the dress or shoes. She'd figured her rep for ass-kicking would have kept the uniforms quiet, but it surprised her not to detect a single grin or snicker behind her back. It surprised her more when her partner stepped toward her without a smart remark on her wardrobe.
"Dallas. It's bad."
"What've we got?"
"Female, caucasian, about thirty. I got the scene recorded. I was about to run her for ID when they told me you'd arrived on scene." They walked together, Peabody in her comfortable airskids, Eve in the arch-killing heels. "Sexual homicide. Raped and strangled. But he didn't stop there."
"Who found her?"
"A couple of kids. Jesus, Dallas." Peabody stopped a moment, stood in her hastily thrown-on clothes, rubbing a hand over her tired face. "Snuck out of the house, thought they'd have a little adventure. Sure as hell got more than that. We've contacted the parents and child services. We've got them in a black-and-white."
"Where is she?"
"Down there." Peabody led the way, then pointed.
She lay on the rocks, just above the dark, still water of the lake. She wore nothing but what looked to be a red ribbon tied around her neck. Her hands were clasped together between her breasts, as if in prayer, or plea.
Her face was smeared with blood. Blood, Eve thought, that had spilled out of her when he'd taken her eyes.
She had to ditch the shoes or risk breaking her neck. Using the can of Seal-It from the field kit Peabody handed her, she coated her hands, her bare feet. Even so, it wasn't an easy climb down in the party dress, and she imagined she looked completely ridiculous, completely uncoplike sparkling her way over rocks toward a body.
She heard something rip, and ignored it.
"Oh, man." Peabody winced. "You're going to ruin that dress, and it's totally iced."
"I'd give a month's pay for a goddamn pair of jeans and a normal shirt. A pair of fucking boots." Then she put it out of her mind, set her feet solidly, and turned to the body.
"Didn't rape her down here. There's going to be a secondary scene. Even a lunatic doesn't rape a woman on a heap of rocks when there's all this grass. Raped her somewhere else. Killed or incapacitated her somewhere else. Had to carry her down here. Had to have some muscle and bulk to manage that-unless there was more than one of them. She's what, maybe a hundred and thirty pounds anyway. Deadweight."
More to protect the scene than the dress, Eve hitched the skirt up. "Let's get an ID on her, Peabody. Find out who she is."
While Peabody used the Identi-pad, Eve studied the position of the body. "Posed her. Praying? Begging? Resting in peace? What's your message?"
She crouched to examine the body. "Visual evidence of physical and sexual assault. Facial bruises, torso, forearms-those look defensive. She's got some matter under her nails. Tried to fight, scratched at him. It's not skin. Looks like fibers."
"Her name's Elisa Maplewood," Peabody said. "Central Park West address."
"Not so far from home," Eve stated. "She doesn't look uptown. No pedicure. Hands aren't smooth and pampered. Got calluses."
"Lists employment as a domestic."
"Yeah, that's more like it."
"She's thirty-two. Divorced. Dallas, she's got a four-year-old kid. A daughter."
"Oh, hell." Eve drew it in, then set it aside. "Bruises on her thighs and the vaginal area. Red corded ribbon around her throat."
It was dug into her skin so the bruised flesh puffed around it, then the tails draped down to her breasts.
"Time of death, Peabody?"
"Getting it." Peabody drew back the gauge, studied the readout. "Twenty-two twenty."
"About three hours ago. And the kids found her?"
"Just after midnight. First on scene responded, dealt with the kids, took a visual from above, and called it in at quarter to one."
"Okay." Steeling herself, she took the microgoggles, slipped them on, then bent over the ruined face. "Took his time here. Didn't hack at her. Neat, precise cuts. Almost surgical, like he was doing a fucking transplant. So the eyes were what he was after. They were the prize. The beating, the rape, those were just the prelude."
She eased back and took off the goggles. "Let's turn her, check the back."
There was nothing but the darkened flesh from the settling of blood, and what Eve identified as grass stains on the buttocks and down the thighs.
"Came at her from behind, that's what he did. But it didn't matter to him if she saw him. Knocked her down-sidewalk or pavement. No, gravelly path. See the scrapes on her elbows? Smacks her around. She tries to fight him off, tries to scream. Maybe she does scream, but he's hauling her away, somewhere he can have his fun without anyone trying to interfere. Drags her, across the grass. Beats her into submission, rapes her. Ties the cord around her neck, kills her. When that part of the job's over, it's time for the real business."
Eve replaced the goggles. "Strip off what's left of her clothes, take her shoes, anything else she was wearing. Jewelry, anything that individualizes her. Carry her down here. Pose her. Take the eyes-carefully. Check the pose, make any necessary adjustments. Wash off all that blood in the lake if you want. Clean up, take your prize, and be on your way."
"His ritual anyway. They can bag her," Eve said as she straightened. "Let's see if we can find the kill site."
Roarke watched her slide her feet back into the shoes. She'd have been better off barefoot, he mused, but that wasn't an option the lieutenant would consider.
Despite the heels, the glamorous dress-worse for wear now-the glitter of diamonds, she was every inch the cop. Tall, lean, steady as the rocks she'd just climbed on to view some new horror. You wouldn't see the horror in her eyes, those long, golden brown eyes. She looked pale in the harsh lights, and the glare of them only accentuated her sharp features. Her hair, nearly the same color as those eyes, was short, choppy, and mussed now from the breeze off the water.
He watched her stop, hold a brief conversation with a uniform. Her voice would be flat, he knew, and brisk, and reveal nothing of what she felt.
He saw her gesture, and saw the stalwart and more comfortably dressed Peabody nod. Then Eve was peeling off from the group of cops, and heading back to him.
"You're going to want to go on home," she told him. "This is going to take some time."
"I suspect it will. Rape, strangulation, mutilation." He lifted a brow when her eyes narrowed. "I keep my ear to the ground when it involves my cop. Can I help?"
"No. I'm keeping civilians-even you-out. He didn't kill her down there, so we need to find where he did. I probably won't make it home tonight."
"Would you like me to bring you, or send you, a change of clothes?"
Since even with his amazing powers, he couldn't just snap his fingers and put her in boots and trousers, she shook her head. "I've got spare stuff in my locker at Central." She glanced down at the dress, sighed at the smears of dirt, the small tears, the stains from body fluid. She'd tried to be careful, but there you go, and God knew what he paid for the damn thing.
"Sorry about the dress."
"It's not important. Get in touch when you can."
She struggled-knew he knew she struggled-not to wince when he skimmed a finger down the dent in her chin, when he leaned down and brushed his lips to hers. "Good luck, Lieutenant."
As he walked back to the limo, he heard her raise her voice. "Okay, boys and girls, fan out. Teams of two. Standard evidence search."
He wouldn't have carried her far, Eve deduced. What would be the point? The added time, trouble, the additional risk of being seen. Still, they were talking Central Park, so it wasn't going to be quick and easy unless they ran into incredible luck.
She did, inside of thirty minutes.
"Here." She held up a hand to stop Peabody, then crouched. "Ground's torn up some. Hand me the goggles. Yeah, yeah," she said after she'd strapped them on. "We got some blood here."
She went down on hands and knees, her nose nearly to the ground, like a hound scenting prey. "I want this area cordoned off. Call the sweepers. I want to see if they can find any trace. Look here."
She got tweezers out of the field kit. "Broken fingernail. Hers," she decided when she held it up to the light. "Didn't make it easy for him, did you, Elisa? You did what you could."
She bagged the nail, then sat back on her heels.
"Dragged her over the grass. You can see where she tried to dig in. Lost a shoe. That's why she's got grass stains and dirt on one foot. But he went back for it. Took her clothes with him."
She pushed to her feet. "We'll check bins in a ten-block radius in case he dumped them. They'll be torn, bloody, dirty. We'll see if we can get a description of what she was wearing, but even without it, we'll look. Kept them though, didn't you?" she murmured. "Kept them as a memento."
"She lives a couple blocks from here," Peabody commented. "Grabbed her close to home, dragged her here, did the job, then carried her over to the dump site."
"We'll canvass. Let's get this coordinated, then take her residence."
Peabody cleared her throat, studied Eve's dress. "You're going like that?"
"Got a better idea?"
Excerpted from VISIONS IN DEATH © Copyright 2005 by Nora Roberts, writing as J.D. Robb. Reprinted with permission by Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. All rights reserved.