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Authors: Heather Graham

Picture Me Dead

BOOK: Picture Me Dead
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Read what the critics are saying about
New York Times
bestselling author
HEATHER GRAHAM

“Graham's tight plotting, her keen sense of when to reveal and when to tease…will keep fans turning the pages.”

—
Publishers Weekly
on
Picture Me Dead

“Graham…has penned yet another spine-tingling romantic suspense that will appeal to fans of Catherine Coulter, Iris Johansen, and Linda Howard.”

—
Booklist
on
Picture Me Dead

“An incredible storyteller!”

—Los Angeles Daily News

“A suspenseful, sexy thriller…Graham builds jagged suspense that will keep readers guessing up to the final pages.”

—
Publishers Weekly
on
Hurricane Bay

“The talented Ms. Graham once again thrills us. She delivers excitement [and] romance…that keep the pages flipping quickly from beginning to end.”

—
Romantic Times
on
Night of the Blackbird

“Refreshing, unique…Graham does it better than anyone.”

—Publishers Weekly

“With the name Heather Graham on the cover, you are guaranteed a good read!”

—Literary Times

Also by HEATHER GRAHAM

HAUNTED

HURRICANE BAY

A SEASON OF MIRACLES

NIGHT OF THE BLACKBIRD

SLOW BURN

NIGHT HEAT

Watch for HEATHER GRAHAM's next bestseller

DEAD ON THE DANCE FLOOR

HEATHER GRAHAM
PICTURE ME DEAD

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

First and foremost, for Robert Merrill, forensic artist, Miami-Dade Police.

For the great folks with the South Miami Police: Pam Stack, Victim Advocate; Lillian Gilbert, Communications Officer; and Detective Kathleen Sorensen.

With thanks as well to some of the wonderful people who keep life fun and challenging in the midst of all else, the very talented staff and instructors at Arthur Murray Studios, Coral Gables, Florida: Wayne Smith, Kene Bayliss, Ana Chacon-Bayliss, Mauricio Ferreira, Romney Reyes, Christina Davo, Adrian Persad (and Rhea!), Shaine Taylor, Liz Myers and Carolina Francesehi, and definitely, above all, the one who keeps us all moving and in shape, Nelida Nunez. Thanks also to a number of fellow students who have been tolerant, kind and kept a lot of nights filled with camaraderie and laughter: Adriana Alvarez, Carolina Alvarez, Dyann Alvarez, Sean Abreu, Silvia Curiati, Judith Camposano, Lauren Carroll, Larry Durham, Enrique Gonzalez, Majo Gomez, Stella Gomez, Denise Herrera, Yvette Herrera, Raymond King, Barbara Mishaan, Vanessa Monlina, Garry Norris, Kristy Pino, Susanna Robles, Samantha Rodriguez, David and Lynn Squillacote, Jim and Dee Bowers, Kim and Angie Wahlstrom, Sergio Alcantara, Brianne Grafton, Rosans Winarto, Jan Svenson, Merle Roe, Sean Lawrence, Ben Wisz, Miguel Sandoval and last, but never least, Kenda Avery, who gives new dimensions to swing and also loves to read.

PROLOGUE

S
he stared into the darkness of the room by night, suddenly and acutely aware of where she was—and the man at her side. Her mind sped up as she tried to retrace the last hours…but nothing would come to her. She had thought herself so aware, so savvy, and yet she had been taken in.

She listened. In time, she was certain she heard the slow deep breathing indicating that he was asleep.

No time to consider just what she had done, how far she had taken her quest. No time to consider the ramifications of her actions. There was no time to think of anything now….

Other than escape.

Carefully, she rolled to her side. Still careful, she rose. With the greatest quiet, she dressed.

“Going somewhere?”

She turned in the moonlight. He was resting on one elbow, watching her.

She laughed softly, came back to the bed, eased a hip on to it and leaned over to kiss his forehead. “What a night,” she said softly. “Wow. But now…I have the strangest craving for ice cream. And coffee. I'm in such a blur,” she said. Her nightly habits shouldn't seem too strange to him; she had just made it here, into the inner sanctum.

“I'm sure there's ice cream in the freezer. And we always have coffee.”

“But I don't want just any ice cream. I want some of that new stuff they're serving at Denny's,” she said. “Thank God it's Denny's, or else it wouldn't be open now. And, of course, I'm feeling a little strange. About being here. With you.”

She stood, slipped on her shoes, and went for her shoulder bag. It felt strangely light.

“I'm sorry,” he said quietly. “You're not going anywhere.”

He rose in the darkness. She didn't underestimate the extraordinary shape he was in. Being in shape was one of life's passions for him. Along with a few others.

“I just want ice cream,” she said.

He walked toward her. There was no malice evident in his face, rather a form of sorrow. “You're such a liar. I have a feeling you've had what you wanted now, what you really came to achieve. And I'm so sorry, but you're not going to leave.”

She felt in the large leather handbag for her sidearm.

“The gun is gone,” he said softly.

He took another step toward her. The gun
was
gone. The terror of that simple fact registered in her mind, along with a change of gears. Run. Get the hell out.

“What are you going to do to me?”

“I really don't want to hurt you, you know.”

The bastard. He
didn't
want to hurt her.
Just kill her.

He took a step toward her. She decided to use the bag as a weapon, swinging it with practiced force. She caught his head dead center, then stepped forward and brutally slammed a knee into him. She heard the ragged intake of his breath; he doubled over.

And she burst out the bedroom door.

She ran desperately through the house and out to the front room, seeking the exit. Then she stopped dead still, stunned, staring at a person she had never expected to see blocking her way. In a flash, it made sense. The fact that she had been recognized for what she was…known.

“You…cockroach,” she managed to whisper.


Rich
cockroach now.”

Bile rose in her; sick fury rose to her lips. Now she knew the extremity of the position into which she had put herself. There was nothing she could say to describe the depths of her revulsion and rage.

Nothing that would change what she had discovered.

Instinct and common sense kicked in. There was only one thing she could do now, and that was fight desperately for self-preservation.

She ran.

She streaked through the front room. Reached the door, fumbled with the locks and was out. There was no alarm.

Of course not. Alarms brought….

The police.

Hysteria threatened to overwhelm her.

Within seconds she was racing down the drive. She could hear shouting echoing through the house behind her.

She knew she would never make it into the garage, never reach her car before they were on her. She had to run, hope to reach the street.

Maybe there would be an early riser driving on the highway.

She sped down the long drive, never having known before just how quickly she could move when necessary. No, not when necessary. When desperate. She dug into her bag for her cell phone as she tried to maintain speed. Eureka! It was there.

She hit 9-1-1. Nothing. They'd left her the phone. They'd just removed the battery.

She kept running, moving like a sprinter, no thought of saving energy, driven by adrenaline and instinct, the desire to live.

She became aware of a terrible rasping sound.

And then she realized that the rasping sound was the ragged inhalation and exhalation of her own lungs. She had escaped the house, probably more than they had ever thought she could do. A small victory. Her only hope was covering enough distance, finding help, before they caught up with her.

She swallowed hard, ignoring the fire and agony that seared through her lungs and limbs. She was well aware that she had a long way to go. The pain didn't matter. Hysteria began to rise in her. She forced it down.

She made it to the road, her feet hitting the pavement, and realized just how dark it could be in the country. She had grown up in the city; there had always been light. But out here…

She hadn't gone that far, and already she could feel her muscles burning; her lungs were on fire.

Lights flared in front of her, sudden and blinding out of the darkness. A car! A car coming down the road just when she needed help so badly. She stumbled to a halt, dizzy with the fact that a miracle had occurred. She raced to the driver's door. “Oh, thank God! Move over. Quickly—”

She felt the gun wedged against her ribs from behind.

And she heard his whisper. He wasn't even winded.

“Game's up.”

She went dead still. She looked at the driver. Saw the slow smile and realized she knew the face. Her heart sank.

She prayed. She asked for forgiveness for all her sins. Pride and self-confidence had been strong within her.

Oh, Lord, yes. Far too much pride. And determination. She had wanted to be the one to find the truth—and she had wanted the glory.

The glory!
That was a laugh now.

Amazing how someone with so much self-confidence could be so frightened.

Don't panic, don't give up, she warned herself. Think of all the right things, reason, remember all the tricks, human psychology, everything you've been taught….

How to survive this…

How to pray. Lord, she was so deeply sorry for those she had hurt.

“Let's go,” he told her icily.

“Shoot me right here.”

“Well, I could. But I think you're going to do what I say. As long as you're living and breathing, there's hope, right? The faintest hope that you might turn the tide on me. So…start moving. Get in the car. Now. Front seat, slow and careful. I'm right behind you.”

She did as she was told. Because he was right. She would fight to the very last second, as long as there was a breath in her body. She was shoved in next to the driver while he got into the rear seat, keeping the gun on her all the while. Her mind worked hard. What was his plan? How would he see to it that there was no evidence of the fact that she had been here, had been with him?

As they neared the house, the garage door opened. The car they were in stopped; she was dragged out. He indicated that she should walk ahead of him. “Time for another ride, I'm afraid.”

She looked at him.

He smiled at her. Grimly.

“One last ride. I am sorry.”

The door to her own car was open. The muzzle of the gun pressed hard into her back, she got into the car. She had no choice. Because he was right. She wouldn't give up while she still had breath. Still had hope.

An unknown figure, a silent accomplice, was awaiting them. As she was forced into the driver's seat, the accomplice slid into the back.

He joined her in the front seat and told her to drive.

Hope…

She twisted the key in the ignition, one step closer to her own demise.

She had to cling to hope.

She talked, because she was afraid and didn't want to be afraid, and at the very least didn't want them to know she was.

“You really are the worst kinds of bastards. All this had nothing to do with religion. You used so many lost souls, promising them salvation.”

“Well, there you go. You have us. Such a smart girl. Too smart. You just weren't smart enough to see the forest for the trees.”

She glanced into the rearview mirror, trying to discern if she knew the person sitting in the back, if, indeed, it was her betrayer.
She'd been so stupid!
She should have seen…and yet no one else had realized the truth, either, because there had been no reason to expect anything so heinous from someone so apparently decent.

Chills crept along her spine. If only she knew…

She spoke, impatiently and with authority. “You could both get out of this now, without threat of the death penalty. You should drive me straight to police headquarters. Tell the truth. You'd have a chance to plea-bargain.”

“We could never let you go,” the man at her side said, and his tone was oddly soft. “I'm sorry.”

She realized then that he really didn't want to hurt her. That he actually felt sorrow over what he was doing. And she also realized, at that very minute, that he wasn't the one calling the shots.

“If something happens to me, it will never end. Dilessio will be after you until the day he dies.”

A swift, explosion of guttural fury from the rear should have silenced her. “Dilessio will never be able to prove a thing.”

“You see, they'll have to find you first,” said the man at her side, his tone still soft.

He was afraid himself, she realized, just as she realized that not even she had really discovered the true depths of what was going on.

Too late to puzzle it out now.

Such a smart girl. Oh, yeah.

In the darkness, as she was directed toward their destination, she began to pray silently. Begging God to welcome her, to forgive her the many sins she had committed.

There was one thing she could do, she realized. Jerk the car off the road, kill them all.

She started to, but the wheel was grabbed from her hand. The sudden pressure on her fingers was so intensely painful that she forgot her purpose. The car rolled to a halt.

“We're parked. This will do,” the one in the back said.

The pain in her hand was still excruciating. She fought it, still thinking desperately, wondering what move she could make to disarm the two men who held her at their mercy.

There was none.

Oh, God…

A split second movement from the back sent her head careening with deadly force against the windshield. As all light faded, as even pain ebbed to nothingness, she heard his voice, a sound as soft as the oblivion that reached out to welcome her.

“I really never wanted to hurt you. I am so sorry. Truly…sorry.”

God, forgive me.

The prayer filled her mind.

Fragmented like crystal…

And was gone.

BOOK: Picture Me Dead
13.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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