Authors: Nancy Taylor Rosenberg
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Loss, #Arranged marriage, #Custody of children, #California, #Adult, #Mayors, #Social workers
|Nancy Taylor Rosenberg|
|Tags:||Fiction, General, Romance, Contemporary, Loss, Arranged marriage, Custody of children, California, Adult, Mayors, Social workers|
Monday morning's are hell. That's what Carolyn Sullivan is thinking as she arrives at her office at the Ventura County Probation Department. She's got a paper due for law school. Two high energy kids who need to be in different places at the same time. A mountain of debt. Her boss is on the warpath before she even has a chance to grab her first cup of coffee. But Carolyn's day is about to get a lot worse. One of her probationers has just been arrested for rape. It's a front-page headline story that leads squarely back to Carolyn's paper-strewn desk and overwhelming caseload. Could she have prevented the crime? She fears the top brass, pressured by the media, may destroy her career. Just when Carolyn should be lying low, instead she's assigned a sensitive case that's sure to have everyone breathing down her neck - supervising convicted killer and paranold schizophrenic Daneil Metroix. Carolyn dives into a case that everyone else seems to want to keep closed...one that leads behind the glossy exteriors of Ventura's most prominent sons into the darkest corners of the American dream. Someone doesn't want Carolyn to discover the truth. Someone who knows where she lives, where she goes, who she sees. Someone who will strike at the very heart of every mother's worst fear in order to silence her for good.
Praise for the electrifying thrillers of
Nancy Taylor Rosenberg
“A highly entertaining legal thrillerâ¦. Unflinchingâ¦compulsively readable, intricate suspenseâ¦Rosenberg's overwhelming portrait of the incendiary, universal emotions of vengeance and guilt definitely touch a raw nerve.”
“A compelling insider's view of the criminal justice system and a moving portrait of a woman bent on revenge.”
“Adrenaline-pumpedâ¦No woman has ever had a stronger motive for vengeance than Lily Forrester.”
New York Times Book Review
“Intricate and satisfyingâ¦Rosenberg develops a startling premise skillfullyâ¦[her] familiarity with the police and courts gives the story a strong veneer of reality.”
Los Angeles Times
INTEREST OF JUSTICE
“Intricate, vivid, thrillingâ¦one of the year's ten best.”
Los Angeles Times
“A taut thriller, written with authority.”
New York Times Book Review
“Arresting and fast-paced.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Moves at the speed of light and keeps readers frantically turning the pagesâa thriller with the undeniable air of authenticity.”
“Compelling tensionâ¦gutsy and full-blooded.”
“Rosenberg can construct a roller-coaster plot with the best of them.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Buzzes with suspense and intrigueâ¦Rosenberg notches up another page-turner.”
ABUSE OF POWER
“Nancy Taylor Rosenberg writes legal thrillers with strong female heroes who triumphâ¦. keeps the tension high.”
“Convincingly demonstrates why a bad cop is even more dangerous than a bad perp.”
“There's no doubt that Rosenberg knows how to spin a yarn.”
TRIAL BY FIRE
“Incredibly fast paced and exciting from page one until the end.”
“A legal thriller with the works.”
“Draws us not only into a suspenseful plot, but also into issues of American crime and law, justice, and revenge.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Nancy Taylor Rosenberg is back with a vengeance, and
is the best evidence that she's at the top of her game!”
“Watch your pulse and don't forget to breathe. Nancy Taylor Rosenberg's legal thrillers are a guaranteed adrenaline rush!”
“The plot presents a compelling moral dilemma, the action is fast-paced and the pages turn easily.”
CONFLICT OF INTEREST
“Rosenberg's legal thrillers make the most of breakneck pacing and high-energy plotting.”
“Rosenberg, author of six best-selling legal thrillersâ¦writes with fast-paced energy.”
Los Angeles Times
Interest of Justice
Trial by Fire
Abuse of Power
Conflict of Interest
Kensington Publishing Corp.
I would like to thank my editor and friend, Michaela Hamilton, along with the wonderful staff at Kensington Publishing Corporation. My agent, Arthur Klebanoff, has done a fine job of organizing my complicated professional life.
I would also like to mention my beautiful family: Forrest Blake, Jeannie, Rachel, Chessly, Jim, Jimmy, Christian, Hoyt, Barbara, Remy, Taylor, Amy, Mike, and Nancy Beth. I attribute my creative talent, such as it may be, to my amazing mother, La Verne Taylor.
To Dr. Christopher Geiler, my medical expert, friend, and personal physician for the past six years, your time and efforts are sincerely appreciated.
I owe a special debt of gratitude to Daniel Conrad Hutchinson. All I can say, Dan, is that someone who jokingly refers to himself as the Ultimate Specimen of Manhood should be able to take on the role of two characters in one fictional book. I doubt if you have anything in common with the one named Daniel, though, and the professor is not nearly as persnickety as you. Also to Christina Hutchinson and Sarah Bostick, for their tips on today's teenagers.
To the others who love and support me: My brother and sister-in-law, Bill and Jean Taylor, as well as my nephews, Nick, Mark, and Ryan; my sister and brother-in-law, Linda and John Stewart, as well as Sharon and Jerry Ford; my assistants, Thomas Villani and Geronima Carrillo, who keep my bills paid, food in the refrigerator, and my clothes clean. For the technical expertise of my friends at SDSI Business Systems: John Paul Thomas, Patrick Thomas, Jean Barnett, and Nancy King. They've done a great job redesigning my new Web site, as well as continually calming a panicked writer when her computers go on the blink. To Heather Ehrlick, a true friend and wonderful therapist, who helped keep my pain under control while I was writing.
To my special friends at the Immaculate Heart Center in Santa Barbara: Joann, Ann, Pauline, Carol; to Father Virgil at the Old Mission, a remarkable and inspiring man. To Barbara and Rabbi Bernard King: I'm proud to be considered even a small part of your loving and spiritual family. To their son, Neil, whose name I also used for a character.
To my many angels, saints, and muses, I don't know all of your names, just that we all work for the same employer.
anger lurked among the plush California greenery, under the bright midday sun. A grouping of cumulus clouds could easily be mistaken for a snowcapped range of mountains. According to the weather report, a rainstorm would be moving in by nightfall. The white clouds were deceptive, laden with moisture. They would soon turn dark.
Everything in his world was deceptive.
What had first caught his attention were her shoes. When she walked, lights flashed inside the tiny heart-shaped cutouts. Following children wearing fancy shoes was a new game he'd been playing. It came to him one day while he was eating a corn dog and sucking on a lemonade at the mall. Sitting around and waiting for someone to call drove him crazy. Even worse was having to report in at a specific time. This broad was flakier than most drug dealers, and dealers always made a guy's life miserable. At least they had a reason for leaving you hanging. They were either out of product, their supplier didn't show up on time, or they were so doped up they didn't even remember you'd called. The lady changed the times he was supposed to call every time they spoke.
He followed the kids with the fancy shoes to the parking lot, curious as to what types of cars their parents drove. During a four-hour period the day before, he'd followed nine kids wearing the same kind of shoes. Not the same exact style. The only criteria was that the shoes had to light up. He didn't care if the cut-outs were animals, hearts, flowers, baseballs, or footballs. He knew the discount stores made knock-offs. No matter where the parents bought them, though, the shoes with lights still cost more than your average pair of children's sneakers.
Flipping through his three-by-five notebook, he added up the two rows of numbers. If the make and model of a car was any indication of a person's income, there were far more poor kids wearing the fancy shoes than there were rich kids. The ironies of life had always amused him. Of course, he knew his game wasn't an actual survey. Checking kids' shoes wasn't his job or anything.
He hated waiting. At present, he was looking for a place. He'd checked out several houses a few blocks away, but none of them fit his needs. He liked trees, houses set back away from the street, the kind of neighborhood where people didn't pry into a person's business.
He'd never had a woman tell him what to do before.
Leaning against a tree, he was inhaling the smoke from his cigarette when he saw her open the front door of her house and walk out onto the patio. God, she was beautiful. What kind of parent would let a little girl go out alone? Sometimes she rode her bicycle with the pink streamers. Other times she skipped. At least her mother had set some restrictions. She could not leave the block. He had seen her ride to the end and stop, then turn around and head off in the opposite direction. He glanced at his watch. It would take her eight minutes to reach the vacant lot behind him.
The entire brood had left for church at nine-thirty that morning. He'd seen them leaving, all decked out in their Sunday clothes. They'd come home around one, parking their rusted-out Volkswagen van in the driveway. Must have stopped for lunch somewhere.
All week long, he had kept his eyes peeled for a man. He was almost certain the woman didn't have a husband. Damn, he thought, the youngest couldn't be more than six months old. The baby cried all the time, and the two boys were always fighting. The oldest was a girl. She must be in her teensâshe had a set of knockers he could spot a mile away. Maybe the baby was hers, although he never saw her pay it much attention. Every evening she sat on the steps of the front porch, staring into space. A few nights ago he'd heard a lot of yelling. When the big sister came outside, he could tell that she'd been crying.
The mother didn't work, so he assumed she lived on welfare, probably the Aid for Dependent Children she collected for each of her five offspring. He assumed she paid for her groceries with food stamps. At least no one in the household smoked. They couldn't use stamps for cigarettes or booze. People traded them to their friends for cash, probably at half their value.
Flicking the ashes from his cigarette, he gave the mother extra points because she cooked. He knew she cooked because he'd spied on them through the kitchen window one evening. The aroma was good enough to make him want to knock on the door and ask if he could join them.
The children appeared fairly clean, and he could tell the mother didn't spend whatever money came her way on herself. She wore rundown shoes and the same black rayon dress to church every Sunday, and carried a beat-up black plastic handbag. A thief would have to be nuts to try to snatch that old purse, he thought with a chuckle. He suspected it was stuffed full of cash. She was a big woman who could put a hurt on a man if she got riled up. No matter what was happening, she never once set down that purse. One of the boys had fallen off his skateboard and broken his arm two days back. His mother had rushed out to help him, the purse shoved under her armpit. It would take a crowbar to pry those arms apart. The purse was a clutch type of thing with no straps. Purse snatchers preferred straps. Most women didn't have that kind of insight.
Everywhere he looked he saw the distinctive signs of poverty. Broken down cars on the street that had to be pushed every seventy-two hours to keep the police from towing them. The cops added to the misery of poor people. They didn't have enough money to register their car, so they got a ticket. How could they pay the ticket? If they had any money, they would have registered the car. And car insurance was out of sight. More tickets. Pretty soon the person ended up in jail. When he was freed, there were more fines to pay and new court dates. Why even try? Stay at home and collect welfare. Nobody slapped a ticket on your ass walking to your mailbox. He spent his childhood in the same kind of neighborhood.
Holding the Gideon Bible he'd stolen from the motel in front of his chest, his body surged on adrenaline. Five minutes and counting. He could already hear her singing. It was hard to make out the words, but he recognized the song. Like everything else about her, her voice was pure and sweet. No heavy cologne, no sticky makeup, no body odor, no open sores or needle tracks.
“Jesus loves me! This I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
“That's my favorite song,” he told her, stepping up beside her. He hated it that her new shoes were making contact with the dirty concrete, and that she lived in that rundown old house. She was a princess, his beautiful princess. Her curly brown hair framed her adorable face. Her skin was a rich, warm brown, and her eyes sparkled with joy. How long before the singing stopped? Would she end up sobbing on the porch like her big sister?
He had intended to wait another week, hoping he'd get caught up in his new job and forget what he had convinced himself was a harmless game of counting shoes. He wanted her too bad. He imagined holding her in his arms, smelling her freshly washed hair, stroking her warm and flawless skin.
She stopped skipping and glanced over at him. For a few moments she was silent, then she saw the Bible he was holding. “Do you go to our church?”
“Yes, I do,” he lied, smiling. “I was talking to your mother this morning. She asked me to keep an eye on you. You know, make sure nothing bad happens.” He turned and pointed down the adjacent street. “I don't live that far away. How's your brother's arm? Your mother told me he fell off his skateboard.”
“I want a cast too,” she said, fiddling with the ruffles on her flower print dress. “Then all the kids can sign their name on it and my mom won't make me set the table for dinner. The plates are too heavy. I'm not strong enough.”
“I bet you're a lot stronger than you think,” he told her, squatting down on one knee. “Put your hand in mine and push as hard as you can. You might even be stronger than me.”
“Really?” she said excitedly.
Her small, perfect fingers wrapped around his own. He felt a jolt of electricity, a taste of the pleasure she would provide him. Tears welled up in his eyes. The dark cloud was above him. He had to move fast. As soon as it started to rain, someone would come looking for her.
She deserved a palace and all he could offer her was death.
The April rain was coming down in transparent sheets. Because she'd driven her two children to school, Carolyn Sullivan was twenty minutes late to work. She parked her white Infiniti in the closest spot she could find. When she got out and opened her umbrella, it snagged on the car door.
Another Monday from hell, she thought, tossing the ripped umbrella onto the backseat and covering her head with the newspaper as she jogged toward the front of the building.
Fifteen minutes later, Carolyn was sitting in a chair in her supervisor's office at the Correction Services Agency in Ventura, a small city on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Her hair was dripping wet, the soggy newspaper was clasped in her right hand, and she'd been called on the carpet before she'd even had a chance to grab a cup of coffee.
Why had Brad Preston left a message on her voice mail demanding that she report to him the moment she arrived? Something big must be happening. Carolyn hoped it was good newsâa long overdue promotion perhaps. As a single parent, her decision to get her law degree had placed a serious dent in her already strained budget.
She walked to the outer office. Brad's assistant, Rachel Mitchell, had informed her earlier that he was in a meeting with the agency's chief and had left instructions for her to wait. “I'll be right back,” she told the woman, pulling her damp shirt away from her chest. “I'm going to the break room for some coffee.”
A tall, handsome man with blond hair and blue eyes caught Carolyn by the elbow. “You're not going anywhere,” Brad Preston said abruptly, steering her back into his office and kicking the door shut behind him. He released her and stared at the newspaper in her hands. “Did you get a look at the headlines?”
“No,” Carolyn said, depositing the wet papers in the trash can. “My umbrella broke. I used the paper to stay dry. What's going on?”
“Eddie Downly raped an eight-year-old girl!” he said, tossing his copy of the
Ventura Star Free Press
at her. “She's alive but he did his best to kill her. This was your probationer. When did you last see the bastard?”
Carolyn's fingers trembled as she stared at the rapist's picture. On the street, they called him Fast Eddie. His real name was Edward James Downly. At sixteen, he'd been sentenced to serve a year in the county jail, then placed on four years' probation. Since the crime had been sexual in nature, Downly had been tried as an adult and ordered to register as a sex offender. Under the DNA Forensic Identification Data Bank and Data Bank Act of 1998, all registered sex offenders had to provide a DNA sample. At present, Fast Eddie was only nineteen years old.
“Iâ¦Iâ¦” Carolyn stammered, slowly raising her eyes. “I don't remember, Brad. I'll have to check his file.”
“Of all people,” he said, dropping down in the leather chair behind his paper-strewn desk, “I never thought I'd be having a conversation like this with you, Carolyn. How long has it been?”
“I told you,” she said, her voice shaking, “I'm not certain. His probation is due to terminate any day. Eddie never gave me any indication that he was a rapist or pedophile. In the underlying offense, all he did was slide his hand up the dress of the fourteen-year-old who lived next door. Eddie swore she was his girlfriend. He claims the only reason he was prosecuted was due to some kind of vendetta between the two families. The last time I talked to him, he was engaged to get married.”
Brad leaned forward, his face frozen into hard lines. “The media's beating our door down. You're one of our best officers. Tell me what I want to hear, Carolyn.”
She rubbed her forehead, covering a portion of her face with her hand. He wanted to be reassured that she'd seen Downly that month, that she'd monitored his every move, that there was nothing the agency could have done to prevent him from brutalizing a child. “The truth? Do you really want to know? It's not what you want to hear.”
“Of course I want the truth,” Brad shouted, standing and removing his jacket, then yanking off his tie. “We have to back up our statements with documentation. I promised we'd get copies of everything in Downly's file to the police within the hour. The address they have for him is no good. How long has it been, Carolyn?” He walked over until they were only a few inches apart. “Christ, we can't play twenty questions while a rapist is on the loose. Tell me where we stand, damn it.”
“A long time,” she said, nervously rubbing her palms on her skirt. “Nine monthsâ¦maybe as long as a year.”
“A year!” Brad exclaimed, his hot breath on her face. “You haven't seen this man in a freaking year?”
“Don't forget,” Carolyn told him, “I'm not assigned to field services. I had over forty pre-sentence investigations to complete last month. On top of that, I now have a caseload of over two hundred offenders. To stay on top of everything is humanly impossible. You know that, Brad.”
“When I heard it was your case,” he said, pacing around the room, “I didn't think there was going to be a problem.” He shook his hands to release the tension. “Get everything you have on Downly to the PD. Don't answer your phone, and don't leave the building until we figure out what we're going to tell the press.”
Carolyn pushed herself to her feet, then stood with her arms limp at her side. “There's nothing to figure out,” she said. “As soon as I hand over Downly's file, they'll know I let the case fall dormant. Even if the brass decides to fire me, I refuse to falsify information.”
Brad pointed at his chest, even more agitated than before. “Did I ask you to falsify information? Are you trying to blackmail me?”
Carolyn fell silent, linking eyes with him. They'd been lovers until Brad's promotion six months ago. The affair had been doomed from the onset. He was thirty-nine and had never been married. A decent man in most respects, Brad had a wild streak, probably what made him so irresistible to women. He raced cars in his spare time, liked to hang out and drink with the guys, and his temper was notorious. Carolyn could never understand how he maintained a perfect physique and didn't look a day over thirty. Good genes, she told herself, thinking his lifestyle would eventually catch up to him.