Read Darkness before the Dawn Online

Authors: Anne Stuart

Tags: #Romantic Suspense / romance, #Adventure, #kickass heroine, #rock and roll hero, #Latin America, #golden age of romance

Darkness before the Dawn (2 page)

BOOK: Darkness before the Dawn
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“Aren’t you going to offer me a drink?” he demanded.

“No,” Kate snapped.

“I’m thirsty, Kate. Don’t be such a bloody bitch.”


He glared at the two of them. “I’ll get it myself. I used to live here, remember?” And he started for the kitchen.


Maggie considered a flying tackle, then rejected the notion. Brian didn’t need any encouragement—he was already slightly suspicious. But there was no way she could keep him out of the kitchen, short of brute force.

Kate cast her a panicked, beseeching look. “Do something!” she hissed. “Brian likes lots of ice!”

“Damn.” Maggie raced after her ex-brother-in-law. Kate was close on her heels.

Brian was at the sink—the sink that still bore traces of the milk and juice hastily dumped from the emptied refrigerator. He was drawing a glass of water. Maggie breathed a sigh of relief—one that strangled in midbreath as he turned and headed directly for the refrigerator.

Kate made a muffled sound of anguish as Brian shoved the glass into the outside compartment that set the ice machine in motion. Three cubes plopped into his glass—each one was a death knell. Then he gestured toward the chair holding the refrigerator door closed. “What’s wrong with the door?”

“The gasket is broken,” Maggie said swiftly. Kate stood in mute panic. “The door swings open and everything gets frosted. Don’t worry about it, Brian—the repairman’s coming tomorrow.”

“I would have thought that a wonder like you could fix anything,” he drawled. Maggie stared at him stonily.
Maybe he’d fit in the freezer.

“I don’t claim to be perfect, Brian,” she said. “But I do happen to possess an ordinary amount of sensitivity, unlike you. You aren’t wanted here. You’ve started a vicious custody
suit against my sister, one that will do nothing but hurt your child, and you don’t give a damn. You show up here expecting to be welcomed with open arms, and then you act insulted when you’re told to get out. I’ll tell you again, Brian. Out of here!”

“You always were a cold bitch,” he said.

Of course, I might have to cut him up in small pieces to get him into the freezer
, she thought, and then she mentally slapped herself. Such wistful fantasies were a waste of time. “Get out!”

“I’m not leaving until my ex-wife tells me to. Even if you can’t fix something as simple as a refrigerator door, I’m not so poor a specimen. You know I’ve always been good at fixing things, Kate.” And he reached for the chair.

For a moment Maggie thought Kate might faint. Her brown eyes blinked and her face blanched, but then she suddenly stiffened. “Get your goddamn hands off my chair!” she roared. “Get out of my kitchen, get out of my apartment, and get out of my life! You walked out on me when Chrissie was two weeks old and remarried by the time she was three months. You’ve severed any rights you had to our life. Get out, and do it fast, or in another moment I’ll start screaming!”

Maggie knew the origin of the ragged edge of hysteria in Kate’s voice. Brian was mystified but totally convinced. He slammed the glass of water down onto the kitchen table and stormed from the room. His elegant back radiated rage and disapproval. They heard the door slam all the way back into the kitchen.

Maggie met Kate’s eyes.

have screamed,” Kate confessed in a whisper. “And I don’t know if I would have stopped.”

“I was busy fantasizing about putting the bastard in the freezer,” Maggie confessed.

Kate stared at her in shock. And then a reluctant, nervous giggle escaped her. “He would have deserved it more than poor Francis.”

“Poor Francis? I thought you threatened to kill him a few hours ago.”

“A figure of speech.” Kate dismissed it. “Caleb had gotten me riled up over something, and Francis took the brunt of it. Francis and I have always gotten along beautifully. But I wouldn’t have minded if it were Caleb in my bathtub. He’s been driving me crazy.” She took a deep, calming breath. “However, I suppose we’re lucky it
Francis. Caleb’s about a foot taller and fifty pounds heavier. I don’t think he’d fit in the refrigerator.”

“Thank heaven for small favors,” Maggie said faintly. “So who’s Caleb and why is he driving you crazy?”

“Caleb McAllister is in charge of finances at the studio,” she said with a certain evasiveness. “I’m production, and Francis was creativity. Caleb had been hassling me about some discrepancies in one of Francis’s budgets. So I confronted Francis, and he was damnably vague. He was covering something up, I know he was. But when I tried to find out what it was, he just gave me that snooty little look of his.” She shook her head ruefully. “I can’t even remember which movie caused all the fuss. Probably one of his pseudo-Star Wars epics.”

“I think you’d better try to remember,” Maggie said. “We’re going to have to figure out who killed Francis and who brought him here, and we’re going to have to do it soon.”

Kate stared at her. “Did you mean to put it in that order? You said ‘killed Francis’ and then ‘brought him here.’ Wasn’t he killed in my bathtub?”

“I don’t think so. I think he was killed someplace else and moved here. He didn’t bleed much, but there wasn’t a trace of blood in the tub. And his limbs were—”

“Maggie,” Kate said in a dangerous voice, “I don’t have anything left to throw up. I’ll take your word for it.”

“And I don’t think we have any alternative,” Maggie continued.

“Alternative to what?”

“We’re going to have to move him back.”

“Oh, God,” Kate moaned.

“Well, we can’t leave him in the fridge,” Maggie said with great practicality. “That door really is broken, and sooner or later Francis is going to make an unwelcome reappearance. At best, keeping him in the refrigerator would have only given us a day or two. I’ve turned the temperature up as cold as it will go—”


“But sooner or later we’re going to have to move him. What with the door breaking, I opt for sooner.”

Kate glared at the refrigerator, as if it were somehow responsible for her current dilemma. “Where to?”

“Back to his apartment. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s where he was killed.”

“But then why bring him here?”

“You tell me, Katy,” Maggie said. “What time did you get home?”

“Not till after seven. And I didn’t go into that bathroom until just before you got here—I use the one off my bedroom. I don’t know when Francis left work. I didn’t see him after our big fight in the lunchroom.”

“But he must have been killed sometime before, say, six thirty. Do you know where he lives?”

“Quite close, actually. In the old Carlysle Building, not more than five blocks away.”

“Then he was probably killed sometime between five and six thirty.”

“How do you know—no, don’t answer that,” Kate begged. “Do I even want to know how we’re going to carry the body five blocks to his apartment building without someone noticing?”

“Got a trunk?”

This was not what she’d envisioned doing twenty-four hours ago, Maggie thought as she hauled the steamer trunk into the service elevator at the Carlysle Building. Her heart was pounding, both from exertion and from nerves, and her
abraded palms were sweaty. She was supposed to be on vacation, playing with little Chrissie, providing moral support for Kate as she finished up her messy custody hearing. Brian had brought the suit for nuisance value alone—he’d never had a chance of winning, until now.

She shoved the steamer trunk against the wall with a grunt and punched the elevator buttons, trying to catch her breath. Carting a very heavy dead body all over Chicago in a steamer trunk left something to be desired. She was strong and sturdy, but one hundred and fifty-plus pounds challenged even her energy level. Her legs were aching, her back throbbed, and sweat was pouring into her eyes. Luckily, her denim jumpsuit looked more utilitarian than designer with its zippers zipped and the sleeves rolled down. Tucking her thick blond hair under an old baseball cap helped, and she’d even gone so far as to pilfer ashes from Kate’s fireplace to smudge her light complexion. Up close, she wouldn’t have passed muster—she’d look like a kid dressed up as a tramp on Halloween. But if God were merciful, no one would see her up close.

The Carlysle’s security was wonderfully lax. She’d caught the back door as someone was leaving and had made it to the elevator without anyone accosting her. In moments she was at the service entrance to Francis Ackroyd’s apartment on the seventh floor of the building. She leaned against the wall to calm her nerves and catch her breath, and she hoped to God that no one would see her as she picked the lock.

Lockpicking had never been one of her major talents, she thought ten minutes later as she still struggled with Ackroyd’s back door. It was a good thing there were only two apartments to a floor, and that the other inhabitants didn’t feel like taking out their garbage at this hour. She’d gone through two credit cards, a barrette, and a toothpick, but not until she kicked the door in a sudden temper did it open. It had been unlocked all the time.

The apartment was dark, pitch black—only the streetlights illuminated it. If she had any sense at all, she thought, dragging
the steamer trunk into the kitchen, she’d leave the lights off, dump Francis onto the floor, and run like hell.

But she had no sense. If there were blood anywhere in the apartment, that’s where she should dump the corpse. But there was no way she could find bloodstains in the dark. She was damned well not going to be alone in an apartment with a dead body and no lights.

At least, she hoped she was alone. That unlocked door meant one of two things. One—the less preferable—was that someone was in the apartment at that very moment, hiding from her, ready to jump out with the same gun that had finished off poor Francis. The second and far more pleasant possibility was that Francis had been killed in the apartment and taken out the back way, and the killer had left the door unlocked.

To hell with it, she thought. He’d find her in the dark just as well as in the light, and she’d just as soon see the killer. She crossed the room and flicked on the light.

It was a glaring intrusion, bright and jarring, and she almost flicked it off again—until she saw the small, barely congealed pool of blood on the quarry-tiled floor of Francis’s upscale kitchen.

The next few minutes were ones she didn’t savor. She put her brain on automatic pilot, remembered to breathe through her mouth, and left Francis Ackroyd on the floor of his kitchen, his head near the pool of blood.

She’d pulled on gloves, silly white cotton gloves that Kate had unearthed from a bottom drawer. She flicked off the light, plunging the apartment into darkness once more, and tiptoed past the body. “Sorry, Francis,” she whispered, and hauled the empty trunk after her, being careful to latch the service door behind her. A moment later, she was in the elevator and gone, out onto the street, where she abandoned the trunk in a pile of old furniture and refuse that was waiting for the dawn trash pickup. It was a chance, but one worth taking. She’d been lucky so far. But she couldn’t drag a steamer trunk around Chicago without attracting attention, and by the time
they found Francis’s body the trunk would be long gone. She moved back toward her car with a marginally lighter heart.

The kitchen at Francis Ackroyd’s apartment stayed dark for no more than forty-five seconds after Maggie had shut the door behind her. The light flickered back on, and a tall, dark figure stood in the doorway, staring down at the late Francis, staring back at the closed door. He moved forward into the light, and his dark, fathomless eyes looked down at the corpse at his feet.

“Well, well, Maggie,” Randall Carter said in a low, meditative voice that held no surprise at all. “What have you been up to?”

Maggie’s steps quickened as she headed down the elegant hallway outside Kate’s fourth-floor apartment. Chrissie would have been retrieved and settled for the night by now, and the apartment would be quiet. Maggie could kick off her shoes, pour herself another, much more generous drink and collapse on the couch for at least half an hour before she had to figure out their next step. The idea of the couch and the drink was so enticing that she was almost dizzy with longing. She fumbled with the key and then practically stumbled in the front door.

“Mission accomplished,” she sang out, heading into the well-lit living room. She stopped short. Kate wasn’t alone.

She wasn’t happy, either. She looked like a small, fierce terrier confronting a St. Bernard. Actually, an Irish wolfhound would be a better description. Kate’s companion was definitely shaggy; his Celtic ancestry was clearly proclaimed in the sandy red hair, in the huge body, and in the incongruous trace of freckling across his broad, earnest face. He was dressed in a dark business suit. His tie was long since gone, his hair was rumpled, and his blue eyes were still frustrated as he turned to look at Maggie. The frustration faded and was replaced with surprise tinged with amusement.

Maggie was used to seeing surprise on men’s faces. She was
a healthy, six-foot-tall woman with curves, muscles, and long, rippling blond hair. The mere sight of her had a tendency to daze mortal men. But amusement was something new—until she remembered the baseball cap on her head and the soot covering her face.

“Who’s the street urchin, Kate?” he inquired. Maggie liked his voice. It was warm and low-pitched, with a flat Midwestern accent that somehow added to its charm.

“My sister,” Kate said flatly. “Maggie Bennett, this is Caleb McAllister.” She placed a slight emphasis on his name, and Maggie took a second glance. During her short drive back to the apartment, she’d decided that Kate’s nemesis Caleb was her most likely suspect in Francis’s untimely demise. But casting another glance over Caleb’s rangy figure, she quickly revised her original suspicion. She wouldn’t rule him out, but at the moment he seemed very
likely—even if he looked now as if he wanted to wring her little sister’s neck.

“Did I interrupt something?” Maggie inquired coolly, kicking off her shoes and sinking onto one of the white couches. Her hand left a nice sooty imprint. She brushed at it with little success. At least it wasn’t blood.

“Caleb insists on interrupting my home life to discuss business,” Kate said in an icy tone, “to find out what our colleague Francis had to say this afternoon.”

BOOK: Darkness before the Dawn
2.8Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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