Authors: Beverly Barton
Tags: #Private Investigators, #Women serial murderers, #Romance, #Serial murder investigation, #Suspense, #Fiction
They all loved her. That was their mistake. Two husbands, her college fiancé, an influential boss — every man who gets close to Jordan Price is made to pay in blood. And the list is growing. Hired by the Powell Agency to investigate Senator Dan Price’s death, Rick Carson can see at once why people would believe Jordan Price incapable of cold-blooded murder. Slender, pale, and elegant, she stands by her late husband’s graveside exuding sweet vulnerability. Only Rick notices that she never sheds a tear. And the deeper he delves into the string of deaths from which Jordan has profited handsomely, the more convinced Rick becomes that he is dealing with a callous, cunning, unstoppable killer. The closer Rick gets to the chilling truth, the more dangerous this game of cat-and-mouse becomes. The targets are changing, and suddenly, nothing and no one is safe. If Jordan is as innocent as she claims, Rick may have placed her in a killer’s cross hairs. And if she’s guilty, he’ll never live to regret it.
Perhaps the best thing he could do for himself and every-one he loved was to commit suicide.
Dan Price stared at the Glock pistol lying atop his desk. He had bought the 9mm automatic for his wife, but she had refused the gift, politely reminding him of her aversion to guns. But at his insistence, she had gone with him to the practice range and learned to use the weapon, only to please him. But to his knowledge, she had never carried the pistol, never kept it in her room or in her car.
If his sweet Jordan had any idea that he was contemplating taking his own life, she would do her best to convince him that no matter what the future held, she would stand by him. It was her basic integrity and loyalty that had first attracted him to the woman who had become his greatest political asset.
Dan lifted the half-full glass of Kentucky bourbon to his lips and finished off the remainder. The liquor burned a path down his esophagus and hit his belly like fire. He coughed a couple of times, then wiped his mouth, picked up the bottle, and poured himself another drink.
If he was going to do this — and he fully intended to end his life tonight — he knew he couldn’t do it stone cold sober. He wasn’t that courageous. Before he could put the hammer-forged barrel into his mouth and pull the trigger, he needed to be more than a little drunk.
He sipped on the bourbon as he leaned back in the swivel desk chair and let his gaze travel over the room. His private study, as it had been his father’s and grandfather’s before him. An impressive room inside a 200-year-old antebellum mansion, part of an estate that had been in his family since before the War Between the States. Generations of Price men had served their country, first in wartime and then in local, state, and national politics. In Georgia, the name Price was synonymous with public service.
If he killed himself, how would that affect his family’s good name? No Price man had ever taken the easy way out of a bad situation.
But could he continue, knowing what the future held for him? Could he condemn Jordan to such a life? And what about Devon? And his brother, Ryan? They would never desert him, and that would mean great sacrifices for each of them.
You don’t have to do this tonight. You have time.
But how much time? Six months? A year?
Dan finished off his second drink and poured himself a third.
The grandfather clock in the hall struck twice. Two in the morning.
He unlocked the file cabinet in the bottom drawer of the desk, rummaged through the folders until he found the file he wanted. A copy of his will. His lawyer kept another copy and a third was inside his safe at the house in Bethesda. The contents of his will were not secret to anyone. Everything he possessed would be equally divided among Jordan, Devon and Ryan. Jordan had protested, telling him that she didn’t expect such an enormous legacy, but he had quieted her protests with a tender caress.
“I owe you more than I will ever be able to repay,” he’d told her.
Dan finished off his third drink.
Minutes ticked by as he contemplated the Glock on his desk. Grandfather Price’s antique desk. Family lore claimed the desk had belonged to Jefferson Davis, a contemporary of his ancestor, General John Ryan Price.
Dan poured another glass of bourbon, picked up the bottle and the glass and walked over to the leather Chester-field sofa. He sat down, placed the bottle on the floor, and considered his options. Death was preferable to the fate that awaited him.
Dan’s eyelids flicked open and shut. In the twilight zone of being half-awake/half-asleep, he didn’t immediately realize where he was or what had awakened him so abruptly. Woozy from sleep and too much bourbon, Dan recalled that he had contemplated suicide to solve his problems, but in the end, drunk and, oddly enough, thinking more clearly than he had when he’d been sober, he had realized that killing himself would have been the coward’s way out.
Dan swatted at something cold against his cheek. His fingertips raked across the metal object. He opened his eyes fully, stared up at the woman leaning over him, and smiled. She did not return his smile. His gaze zipped from her familiar face to his own hand holding the 9mm, its barrel pressed firmly against his head. And it was only when he tried to ease the gun away from his head that he realized her hand covered his, her index finger squeezed tightly over his against the trigger.
“What the — !”
Before he could react, she forced his finger down against the trigger, firing the gun at point blank range directly into his brain.
Dan’s last thought was that someone he’d trusted completely had just killed him.
Jordan Price was a cold-hearted bitch. Cool, controlled and calculating. If she was a better actress, she would at least show some sign of emotion. She could fake tears or heave a deep, grieving sigh. Anything to indicate she felt at least a modicum of remorse over her husband’s death. But the lady hadn’t shed a tear. Not during the church funeral attended by hundreds and not at the graveside service for family and close friends.
Rick Carson had met her type before — alluring and dangerous. He hadn’t known the late Senator Price personally, but he sure as hell felt sorry for the poor bastard. Every man, even a damn politician, deserved a wife who mourned him.
As the light drizzle increased and quickly turned into a downpour, black umbrellas popped open to shield the small crowd of mourners surrounding the open gravesite. The scalloped edges of the burgundy-red canopy sheltering the immediate family, seated in double rows of four chairs each, flapped loudly as the April wind whipped unmercifully through the nearby trees.
Small town, southern cemeteries were pretty much inter-changeable, many of the headstones dating back to the early 1800s and a few graves marked with only large rocks. Rick figured that, for the most part, his dirt poor ancestors lay in unmarked graves throughout the South, from Virginia to Kentucky and on into his home state of Mississippi. His father had been the first in his family to acquire a high school diploma and Rick had been the first to graduate from college. He had about as much in common with the dearly departed senator as a buzzard has in common with a peacock.
The woman at Rick’s side raised her open umbrella just enough to clear the top of his head, which due to her being five-ten meant she’d lifted it only a few inches to accommodate his six-two height. Nicole Powell was his boss’s wife — actually she was Griff’s bride of seven months and co-owner of the Powell Private Security and Investigation Agency. If Griff wasn’t out of the country right now, he’d be here instead of Rick, who had worked for the agency the past five years.
As the minister uttered the final prayer in the 20-minute ceremony that had included the mournful wail of a bagpiper’s rendition of “Amazing Grace,” Rick shifted his attention from Nicole back to Mrs. Price. She sat ramrod straight, her chin tilted upward, her teeth clenched, and her eyelids slowly closing. Reverent enough to shut her eyes, but not enough to bow her head, the widow took a deep breath. Was she weary of having to pretend to care and wishing this day would end? Or was she desperately trying to control any emotion she might feel?
The man sitting beside Jordan Price casually reached over and grasped her folded hands resting in her lap, then took one hand in his and clutched it tightly. She didn’t react in any way when he placed their entwined hands between them. Rick sensed these two shared an intimate bond. Nic had told him that this sinfully handsome guy, who at the funeral had showed far more emotion than the widow, had been Dan Price’s assistant for 12 years. Rumor had it that Devon Markham had been like a son to the senator. So, what did that make him to the senator’s attractive, young wife? A friend or a lover?
The minister, a gray-haired gentleman with a kind face and a commanding voice, ended the service by inviting those in attendance to join the family at the Price home for an after-funeral reception. This type of affair was the southern, Protestant version of a wake.
While the others seated stood up and shook hands with the preacher, Markham assisted the widow to her feet, placed his arm around her waist and took a protective stand at her side.
“Let’s get out of here,” Nicole whispered. “I’ll wait and speak to Claire and Ryan at the reception.”
“Did they tell you why they were interested in hiring Powell’s?” Rick kept in step with Nic’s long-legged gait as they made their way toward her Escalade.
“No. All Claire said when she called to tell me about Dan Price’s funeral arrangements was that Ryan needed to speak to me after the funeral about hiring Powell’s. Considering what she and Ryan were going through at the time, I thought the particulars could wait.”
Glancing over his shoulder, Rick took one final look at Mrs. Price. Dry-eyed and rigid, she spoke to the minister. Markham clung to her, not she to him, which implied that she was the stronger of the two and they both knew it.
What was it about the woman that intrigued Rick so? Maybe it was nothing more than her being beautiful. Beautiful, fragile, vulnerable — and heartless. His instincts were usually right on the money and it was highly unlikely he was wrong this time, but for some gut-level reason, he wanted to be wrong about the widow being heartless.
Nicole stopped, turned, and called to him. “What’s the matter?”
He realized Nic had walked on ahead of him and he was standing in the rain staring at a woman he didn’t know and instinctively didn’t like. He caught up with Nic, clicked the OPEN button on his remote to unlock the SUV, and then rushed to open the passenger door for her.
Once seated inside, he started the engine and backed up the car. “What do you know about Jordan Price?”
Nicole shrugged. “Not much really. Counting today, I’ve met her a total of four times. The first time was Claire and Ryan’s wedding. Then again at Michael’s christening and the last time was at her wedding, when she married Dan.”
Rick drove slowly down the narrow one-lane road that led out of Oak Hill Cemetery. “She’s a lot younger than he was. Do you think she married him for his money?”
Nic laughed. “I have no idea.” She glanced at Rick. “Why so curious about Jordan Price?”
Rick’s grip on the steering wheel tightened. Damn good question. Why was he so curious about the widow? Yeah, sure, he found her attractive. And yeah, her seemingly unfeeling attitude disturbed him. Maybe she reminded him a little too much of his own callous, conniving stepmother, who had sucked his father dry during their marriage and had cheated Rick and his sister out of their meager inheritance.
Rick grunted. “Damn if I know. I just thought it odd that the lady hasn’t shed a tear all day.”
“Some people cry in private,” Nic said. “And the reality of death doesn’t always hit a person right away. It often catches up with them weeks later and then they fall apart.”
“Yeah, either is a possibility.”
“But you’re not buying it, are you?”
“Young, beautiful widow buries older, wealthy husband, without any show of emotion whatsoever. And the husband’s handsome, young assistant holds her hand and clings to her during the funeral.”
“You’re painting a really ugly picture, you know. Dan Price committed suicide. He wasn’t murdered. Besides, Claire and Ryan like Jordan. And if Jordan hadn’t been a good wife to Dan, neither Claire nor Ryan would think so highly of her, would they?”
“Hey, it’s nothing to me one way or another,” Rick said. “It’s not my family, not my concern. I don’t know these people.”
And he didn’t want to know them, especially not Jordan. But if Ryan Price hired Powell’s and he was assigned to the case — what then?
She watched from an upstairs window as the hordes descended on Price Manor, Dan’s ancestral home.
A gray day, with the heavens weeping, seemed appropriate for the funeral services. Daniel Price had been loved and respected. It was only fitting that the weather reflected the somber mood of the occasion.