Table of Contents
LOVE ON THE WEB
I want all of you, Nikki. Your body, your soul, and your heart.
I hope I’m not scaring you off . . . please tell me if I am! I just feel so connected to you, as if everything between us fits. I know it sounds crazy when we’ve never met, but why else would we reveal our truest selves to each other—unless both of us are coming to the same conclusion?
Please tell me I am not making a fool of myself here. *smiles*
Nikki took a deep breath and blew it out. Richard was right. As insane as it sounded, she too felt the connection growing between them. It became more and more pronounced with every email they sent off to each other.
And it wasn’t just sexual compatibility, either. They seemed well-suited as friends, too. They shared the same political and religious beliefs, the same everything. He was almost too good to be true.
A little unnerved by how fast her feelings were developing, but smiling contentedly nonetheless, she hit the “Reply” button . . .
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents
either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously,
and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business
establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
ONE DARK NIGHT
A Berkley Sensation Book / published by arrangement with
Berkley Sensation edition / April 2004
Copyright © 2004 by Jaid Black.
All rights reserved.
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eISBN : 978-1-440-62268-7
Berkley Sensation Books are published by The Berkley Publishing
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New York, New York 10014.
BERKLEY SENSATION and the “B” design are trademarks
belonging to Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
To my editor, Cindy, for making this book the best it can be. To my agent, Ethan, for his valued input and criticism. To my daughters for making me dinner when I was too focused on Thomas and Nikki to eat. To my dad for all the pride I see in his eyes. And, finally, to my mom . . . for never doubting this day would come.
Sunday, June 8 3:10 A.M.
Even after fifteen years of working as a police officer,
ten of which he’d spent as a homicide detective, the scent of death never got any easier to stomach. It was a hideous smell, especially if the flesh of the victim had been decomposing for a period of time, as was the case tonight.
Detective Thomas Cavanah stepped over the yellow crime-scene tape that had been woven across twelve feet of muddy ground and chain-link fence and walked toward the body of the decomposing victim. He ignored the whirring of lights from nearby police cars, the buzzing sound of vultures—also known as reporters—as they clamored around for a story, and concentrated on the crime scene.
She looked just like the others before her. Late twenties to mid-thirties. Light brown—maybe dark blonde?—hair. Average height. Well-endowed. Very dead.
Thomas glanced up at the familiar sound of his partner’s voice. He absently watched Detective James Merdino flash his badge at a rookie cop securing the scene before stepping over the police tape. Thomas cast his gaze back down to the muddy ground, his thoughts on the victim.
The Unidentified Subject—UNSUB—who had done this woman in was the type who likes to play, he thought, his acute brown eyes immediately noting the several superficial lacerations zigzagging across her torso. Cuts like that weren’t meant to kill—only to injure, to torture. To give hope of living where none exists. To play . . . .
His gaze flicked up to the woman’s bared breasts. Or what was left of them, rather. A large hole had been dug out of her chest, a gaping wound where her heart should have been, revealing that, just like the others, that particular organ had been removed from her body—probably when she’d still been alive.
Thomas pinched the bridge of his nose. He took a deep breath and blew it out. When the perpetrator had finally allowed the victim to die, she had been grateful for it, he was certain.
“On my way over, the police dispatcher informed me that the heart was missing,” James said, squatting down on the ground next to the victim. “I see they got that right.”
“This dude is one sick bastard,” Thomas muttered, his gravelly voice kept low.
“They all are.”
Thomas’s eyebrows rose slightly. “Not like this, bro.”
James nodded down to the victim. “He tied her up like the others.”
“Any signs of a struggle?”
Thomas snorted at that. “Hell yeah, she struggled,” he growled.
“You know what I mean—”
“But whether or not she struggled
he tied her up I just don’t know.” Thomas frowned. “Let’s hope the coroner can answer that one. We need something more to go on, because right now we have as much as we did when the last victim surfaced—nothing.” He ran a hand through his dark brown hair, the muscle in his biceps bulging. “Why do I have a feeling Dr. Goldstein is going to say she’s too badly decomposed to tell?”
“Because she is. They usually are.” James sighed, standing up before his partner did.
“He’s gotten good,” Thomas murmured. “Too good. He knows how to cut them, how to hide them, never fucks up. Never leaves DNA traces behind.”
“He will eventually. And when he does, my friend, we’ll get his ass.”
Thomas was silent for a protracted moment as he considered that. “Right now we’ve only got one thing going for us. His ego. It’s getting bigger and bigger.”
He glanced back down at the victim, his eyes narrowed in concentration. The laceration marks across her torso were almost artsy this time. “He’s not just cutting them up and killing them anymore. He’s taking his time, confident in his ability to keep from getting caught.”
“And the more time he spends with them . . .”
“The more chance there is that he’ll leave behind a fiber—anything.”
James nodded. “We’ll get him, buddy. I know we’ll get him.”
Thomas forced his intense gaze away from the victim’s body. His brown eyes clashed with his partner’s. “I just hope we get him before he gets anybody else.”
That scenario was as unlikely as the perp turning himself in, a fact both detectives implicitly understood.
Somebody else would die.
And given Lucifer’s penchant for playing, it would happen soon.
Sunday, June 8 11:10 A.M.
“How much blood has he lost?”
Dr. Nicole “Nikki” Adenike put the question to the O.R. nurse as she quickly scrubbed down, preparing for an emergency surgery. The victim had taken a bullet through the chest, just two inches shy of his heart.
“A hell of a lot. We can’t even tell.”
Not that it mattered. Not that she cared. It was Nikki’s job to save the man’s life, not to play judge and jury. When he was healed, he would be handed over to the Cleveland Police Department. Until then, she had a job to do.
“Has he been prepped?” she asked as they ran together from surgery toward the awaiting victim in the operating room.
“Prepped down in E.R.”
The scene inside the operating room would have looked like chaos to the casual, untrained observer. In actuality, the team of nurses and doctors attending to the victim moved with expert precision, the singular goal of saving the drug dealer’s life paramount to all else.
“We have to move fast, so don’t make me repeat myself,” Nikki calmly intoned as she took her place next to the victim. “Nurse, gauze please.”
For the next eight hours Nikki worked like Mozart before the piano, doing what she did best. Her hands were steady, her fingers skilled. She detached herself from the pandemonium around her, concentrating instead on picking out the bullet, restoring the victim’s vital signs, and sewing up the obscenely gaping hole in his chest.
Easier said than done. There was a lot of blood loss. His vitals were touch and go. Twice she almost lost him.
But in the end, eight hours, a perspired brow, and a fatigued body later, the victim’s chest had been sewn back up sans the bullet, his vitals improving if not fully restored.