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Authors: J. D. Robb

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BOOK: Vendetta in Death
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An insult for Summerset regarding stick-up-the-ass-replacement surgery at the ready, she walked in.

But rather than his looming in the foyer, she heard his voice from
the parlor. And a quick belly laugh she knew well followed by quick, cheerful gibberish.

She tossed her coat on the newel post, left her file bag on the steps, then crossed over.

In a frilly pink sweater and blue pants with frills of pink lace on the hems, Bella sat on Summerset’s bony lap. Her golden curls bounced in a pair of miniature ponytails secured with rainbow bands.

Mavis’s nod to pink fountained around her head in hair as bright as candy. She wore the rainbow in a swirl of a dress that floated over the tops of her thigh-high pink boots.

Barely.

The three sat in front of a quiet fire looking absurdly and happily domestic.

Bella let out a squeal—the sort that, if she hadn’t come to expect it, would’ve had Eve reaching for her weapon. Bella scrambled out of Summerset’s lap and charged—in that stunning toddler speed—across the floor.

“Das! Das! Das!”

She flung herself at Eve’s legs like a mini–defensive tackle. Galahad, who would normally stir himself to greet her by winding through her legs, just blinked his eyes and stayed on the arm of Mavis’s chair.

Whatever Bella babbled with her seriously pretty face tipped up to Eve would remain a mystery. But Eve understood the meaning of the upstretched arms and had never been able to figure out how to refuse them.

She hauled the kid up, got the loving and sloppy kisses, then the long, sighing hug.

What the hell were you supposed to do?

Curious, Eve took a sniff. “You smell like chocolate.”

Bella tossed back her head, gave her wild and happy laugh.

Babble,
“Someshit,”
babble babble,
“cookies,”
babble,
“yum!”
babble,
“Das.”

“Got it.” Sort of.

She would have put the kid down, but Bella clung to her like a barnacle to a hull. So Eve just shifted her as she glanced at Mavis.

“How’d you know I was heading home?”

“I didn’t. Bellamina and I came by to hang with Summerset.”

“Someshit,” Bella said, very fondly.

“So it’s luck to the ult,” Mavis continued, “you hitting the home fires early while we’re hanging. Take off the load, join the hang.”

Work, Eve thought. Murderers to catch. But the kid was locked around her, and Mavis’s smile shined like half a dozen suns. Trapped by joy, she carted Bella over. When she sat, Bella nuzzled in, jabbering.

Eve caught “Ork,” “Gahad,” something about Mommy, something about Daddy. Somewhere inside the chatter and embraces, Bella got a hand on Eve’s sidearm.

“Uh-uh.” Though it was secured in its harness, Eve firmly removed the curious little hand.

“Toy!”

“No, it’s not.”

“Bella toy!” Big blue eyes batted. “Pease!”

“Forget it. It’s not a toy. It’s my weapon.”

Charm vanished. Big blue eyes hardened like steel. “Want toy!”

In Eve’s mind two little horns popped up through the golden curls. A forked tongue darted out between the rosy lips.

In the next chair, Mavis—no help at all—sipped something that smelled like tea.

“You think that’s going to work?” It was pretty damn scary, Eve admitted privately. “I kick ass for a living, kid.”

“Share!” Bella demanded.

“No. Think of something else.” Desperate to change the focus, Eve boosted up a hip, dug out one of her cards. “Here. You get in trouble, tag me.”

Bella took the card, studied it with her lips pursed, her eyebrows drawn. Then she nodded, used her finger to jab the words.

“Bella Eve.”

“Right. Great.”

All charm again, she fluttered those eyelashes. “Mine?”

“Yeah, all yours.”

“Ace on the distract, Dallas,” Mavis complimented as Bella cuddled against Eve and jabbered at the card. Then batting her own baby blues, turned to Summerset. “Do you think you could take her back, maybe give her one more you-know-what before we take off?”

“Delighted. Bella, why don’t we go to the kitchen and see what we might find?”

“Ooooh, Someshit cookies! Das! Mommy.”

She all but leaped to the floor, would have wound up Summerset’s bony body like a snake up a tree if he hadn’t bent down to pick her up.

She waved Eve’s card like a flag, chattering away at Summerset as he nodded soberly and carried her off. “Yes, of course we will.”

“No way he understood that.”

Mavis let out a happy little sigh. “She said we need to share cookies with you and me, and get a treat for the cat. We’re working hard on the whole sharing deal.”

“Yeah, you get it, but no way he could.”

“Oh, he’s aces at it, like totally fluid in Bellamina. We try to get by every week or two for a quick hang. He’s like her granddaddy.”

Since that stunned her speechless, Eve just stared.

“So, you know, we were at Jake’s studio. We’re going to cut a disc together, and that is mag to the ex, and he had to head off to meet Roarke, and I thought, hey, good time to see Someshit.”

“Roarke?”

“Yeah, and when his name dropped, Belle’s all ‘Ork, Ork,’ so I tagged Summerset to see if we could do the pop-in. Didn’t figure on catching you, but I’m taking it as a sign.”

“A sign of what?”

“That it’s time to tell you what we weren’t going to tell for a couple more weeks even though I’ve been busting and you have to be the first even though it weirds you out.”

Mavis popped up, did a dance in her thigh-high boots. Pointed at her belly. “Encore!”

“What’s that mean?”

With a roll of her eyes, Mavis mimed a mound over her belly. “Encore! Knocked Up, The Return!”

“What? You’re … again?”

“Again!” Mavis executed three pirouettes, then a booty shake. “Sperm, egg, touchdown.” Then she mimed spiking the ball and what may have been a volcano erupting.

“I’ve been totally
dying
to tell you.” She dropped onto the arm of Eve’s chair, grabbed her in a fierce hug. “I’ve got two-plus months in—even had to pretend to drink wine at Nadine’s bash ’cause we thought people would guess if I didn’t. We were going to wait through the first tri, but here you are, and I can’t, and now we can tell Peabody and McNab when they come over tonight, and I can tell Trina, and—oh, every-damn-body. You had to be first because total BFF, even though it weirds you.”

“It doesn’t weird me.” At Mavis’s snort, Eve had to concede. “Okay, some. But you’re happy. You look crazed, but I read it as happy.”

“Happy squared times a gazillion. Leonardo and I wanted to have kids close together—you know, so they could be buds—and we decided to start to hit it right after Bellamina turned one.”

She slid down, squeezed into the chair with Eve to cuddle much as
Bella had. “Do you remember how I got all whacked that time when I was pregnant with Belle, how I was afraid I’d just blow at being a mom, how I’d screw it all up? And you told me I’d be mag, I’d be a totally good mom?”

“You are.”

“I am. My moonpie and me, we’re good at this. He’s everything a daddy should be. I’m so lucky, Dallas. I’m so freaking blessed.” She turned her face into Eve’s shoulder, weeping. “And I’m so freaking hyped on hormones.”

“Okay.” Eve patted her back. “Okay.”

With a sigh, Mavis settled in. “I never thought I’d be here. Not here-here. Okay that, too, but you know,
here
. With someone so abso-mag like Leonardo, with a daughter who’s sunshine and rainbows and everything good. With a life that’s not just grabbing what you can grab when you can grab it and not worrying about what’s next. Freaking blessed, Dallas.”

“You deserve it.”

“Getting arrested by you was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

“Glad I could help.”

With a watery laugh, Mavis shook her head. “Serious, because it started me to here. Anyway, Leonardo and I want you and Roarke there, like with Bella.”

“There…” Terror gripped her by the throat. “Mavis, listen—”

“We’ll talk about it, but now I need to fix my face back up. And probably puke. Yeah, pretty sure I need to boot.”

Mavis wiggled up, hurried out, and Eve sat just as she was.

In there, again, she thought. In the room where
it
happened. Again.

“Jesus Christ, what have I done to earn this torment?”

 

14

One thing a visit with a chatty toddler and a pregnant
M
avis
A
ccomplished—it cleared Eve’s mind every bit as thoroughly as a sweaty workout.

In fact she felt just a little breathless by the time she made it up to her office. Even though she got a cookie out of it.

She tossed her jacket over a chair, programmed a pot of coffee.

When she checked for incoming at her command center, she found Dickhead’s report, and made a note to hit Roarke up for the tickets.

Another report from EDD told her Pettigrew hadn’t kept a list like McEnroy. He simply kept a calendar on his office unit—under a passcoded personal file—marking dates, times when he booked a licensed companion.

More often than not, he also booked a hotel room for the encounter, but he had a scatter of those bookings at his home. According to EDD, the home visits coordinated with out-of-town dates on Horowitz’s calendar on her home unit.

Older calendars indicated he used hotels exclusively during his marriage. He didn’t take chances with his ex, before she became his ex, Eve mused.

Because Horowitz was easier to fool?

Because he knew/feared Darla would be more wrathful?

More to lose with a wife, Eve thought as she updated her board and book. If Darla went for the divorce first, for instance, found a way to cut him out of the company, or just make his life hell.

Back at her command center, Eve put her boots up, sat back with coffee.

McEnroy—a criminal, a rapist, a predator, a man who if found out while alive would have spent a great deal of time in a cage.

Pettigrew—a crappy husband and partner. Greedy, an opportunist. But nothing she could see illegal in his actions. Nothing that would have landed him in a cage.

And still, to “Lady Justice” they’d earned the same fate.

“Because they’re all the same,” Eve murmured. “Men, as a species, are a plague that needs to be eradicated. Start with your circle—the support group—eliminate them one by one. And after that, go on the hunt. It’s in your blood now.

“Men are the enemy; destroying them the mission.”

“Well now, that’s a warm welcome home.”

Eve glanced over as the cat rolled out of the sleep chair to trot over and greet Roarke.

“I’d keep you around,” she told him. “You gotta get sex and coffee somewhere.”

“Such a comfort.” He strolled over to kiss her—and steal her coffee. “I’m told you got home early—for you.”

“Wanted mind-clearing and thinking time. I got Mavis and the kid.”

“So I’m told as well. And how are they?”

“The kid’s smart, scary, and pretty damn irresistible. Mavis is pregnant.”

“She … what now?”

“‘Encore,’ she says. And if she were capable of doing handsprings, she’d have done them.” To demonstrate, Eve circled a finger in the air. “It’s on purpose—the knocked-up part. Telling me was because I showed up during what I found out is a routine visit with Summerset, and her seeing it as a sign to spill.”

“Well, that’s lovely then. We’ll send her flowers.”

“Don’t get too happy about it. She expects us to do the encore, too.”

“What encore would that…” Quickly, visibly, he paled. “You don’t mean she wants us to be in there again when she—”

“Pushes another human being out of her? Yeah, she does.”

“I’m opening a bottle,” he said instantly. “And I’m not discussing it or thinking of it. I still have images burned on my brain from the first that haunt me in the dead of the night.”

Desperately pleased to have company in her terror, Eve pointed at him. “You, even you, won’t be able to talk her out of it.”

“I could be out of town, even off-planet,” he said as he walked over to choose a wine. “I could very easily be off-planet for— When is she due?”

Eve frowned. “I don’t know. I didn’t ask. I never know what to ask. She said she was pregnant at Nadine’s bash, but didn’t want to spring it on people then. And if I have to do this again, pal, so do you.”

“I’m not thinking about that part of it. We’re having wine. Now talk to me about something less traumatic. Like murder.”

Because she felt entirely more comfortable talking about murder than childbirth, Eve took the wine he held out.

“Big break. Pettigrew dragged and dug his bare feet—toes, toenails—over the floor, and we’ve ID’d the substance. Which is why I need two box seats for the next Mets home game.”

“Dickhead.”

“Sometimes I want to get in his face and threaten and badger, other times I just want to get through it.”

“Understood. I’ll take care of it. Let’s sit a minute.” After he ordered the fire on low, Roarke drew her to the sitting area. “What’s the substance?”

“Painted concrete. I have the brand and—what’s it—psi of the concrete—Mildock—the brand and color of the paint—or the epoxy. Additives therein indicate floor not wall paint, not enough waterproofing for an outdoor area, or around a pool. Most likely a garage or an interior space. Like a basement. I’m leaning basement. Private.”

Sipping wine, sitting with his wife? Roarke considered that a fine transition to his day. “That is quite the break.”

“Yeah. Both the brands are popular, so it’s going to be a bitch to try to narrow down, but once we have her, this’ll cap it.”

She drank some wine, studied the board. “Horowitz doesn’t fit.”

“Pettigrew’s live-in?”

“Yeah, even if I opened this up like it’s a conspiracy—multiple women working together to off cheaters—she doesn’t fit. Geena McEnroy fits better, but she doesn’t fit smooth, either. She followed through,” Eve added. “Tagged her way up the chain to Tibble and the mayor, threatened going to the governor.”

Roarke skimmed a hand over her hair. “And?”

“Got called into The Tower.” She shrugged. “Tibble’s half a politician, because that’s the job, but he’s no dumb-ass. I ran it through for him and Whitney, including the fact you bought the company Pettigrew screwed his ex out of. Laid out the evidence and blah blah. He’ll handle her.”

“No doubt. As to the company, I can give you a bit more on that now. Darla Pettigrew launched her company with backing from her
grandmother, who, as it happens, is the completely amazing Eloise Callahan.”

“You know her?”

“Of. And I admire, very much, her work. You’ve seen some of her vids.”

He’d know better than she would, so Eve said, “Probably.”

“I can promise we’ve watched a few together. But in any case the legendary Eloise backed her granddaughter financially. Darla had studied programming and AI engineering in college, worked for advanced degrees. Then married Pettigrew. Reading between the lines of the data I unearthed, she played lawyer’s wife to the exclusion of her own ambitions for several years, but along the way something sparked her idea to start her own company with a focus on creating, programming, and manufacturing personalized domestic droids. Small scale, and with the eye toward quality and affordability.”

“Hers then. He didn’t have the programming chops, right?”

“None at all, but he handled the legalities—and there he set himself up nicely. And,” Roarke added, “craftily. The company had some success—enough for her to repay her grandmother, and build a reputation for reliability and customer service. A solid little company, as I said before.”

“Yours now.”

“It is, yes. A couple of years ago, Pettigrew’s financial manager contacted our acquisitions department. Memos and reports from the time state the company would be on the block due to a divorce.”

“Would be?”

“Yes, we got a bit of a heads-up, an invitation to make an offer. My people did the due diligence, I cleared the offer, and after a quick and easy negotiation, we finalized within a couple of weeks. Simple and standard, no muss or fuss.”

“She didn’t have a choice,” Eve replied.

“So it seems. It appeared, as I said, simple and standard on paper. She’d signed off, and he’d held the majority share.”

Eve rose, wandered to the board. “Because he’d set it up that way, and she assumed he set it up fairly.”

“I’d agree with that. As I said, it was craftily done.”

“I bet. Plus, she was, most probably, focused on the work, the hiring, the getting it off the ground, and left the legal crap to him. Married a lawyer, after all.”

Roarke watched her circle, study. “Hard to see it otherwise.”

“Impossible to, from where I’m standing. And it was hers, the idea—her education—her grandmother’s backing, the work.”

She glanced back at him. “And pride. She’d have been proud of it—proud she’d paid back her grandmother’s investment, proud she’d built something.”

“Quite a nice something,” Roarke confirmed. “A solid little company with potential to grow. She had reason to be proud of it, yes.”

“And he cheated her out of it. Cheated on her sexually.” Eve jabbed a finger at Darla’s ID shot. “I’m telling you that’s the motive. It’s not all of it, because this is one sick bitch, but that’s the springboard, the break, the push.”

Roarke got up, went to the board, studied the photo. “So you’re convinced she’s involved?”

“Not ready for convinced, but man, I’m leaning there, and hard.” She began to pace. “Not Geena McEnroy. She’s got two kids, and by every account—even people who actively disliked him—he was a good father. You heard the tutor—did she come off straight to you?”

“She did, yes. And like you, I believe she’d have known or would have had some inkling if the wife had a part in this.”

“Agreed. Horowitz. Young, a little stupid if you ask me, living the good life and happy there. If she’d found out about the LCs, I figure
her to cry and rage and demand he stop—or run home to her mother. But help plan out two torture murders? No. Plus, with him dead, she’s out. Not a spouse or a legal cohab. Just lived with him. She gets nothing.”

“All right.” Because he knew Eve, Roarke nodded. “And what else?”

“Neither of them, not as far as evidence shows, had a direct connection with the support group. The killer’s been in those meetings, been part of them, heard the stories. Darla.”

“You’re convincing me.”

“It’s not going to convince the PA or a judge to issue a search warrant for Eloise Callahan’s residence.”

“You don’t believe the grandmother’s complicit, surely?”

“She’s an actor, right? Legendary, everybody says. She didn’t give me any buzz when we talked to her—”

“You talked to her.” Roarke held up a hand. “You talked with Eloise Callahan?”

“Yeah, because, you know, murder investigation.” She had to smirk. “Fanboy.”

“Being an admirer of her craft doesn’t make me a fanboy. Maybe a bit,” he admitted with an easy smile. “And I think this calls for a meal over which you can give me all the details.” He cupped her chin in his hand, his thumb grazing lightly over the shallow dent in it. “I think steak. You look tired, Lieutenant. You haven’t had much sleep in the last couple nights.”

“I could eat steak.”

He drew her in first, held her. “When there’s time, I think we’ll watch Eloise in
Only Once
.”

“Do things blow up?”

Smiling, he kissed her temple. “Not this time. It’s a beautiful film. Staggeringly, sumptuously romantic. I think she’d have been in her twenties still. Gorgeous creature. Luminous.”

“Big fanboy.”

“Perhaps I am at that. You’ve seen her in
Rise Up
—and in that one quite a bit blows up. Urban War setting,” he began, but Eve pulled back, gestured.

“That was her? I remember that one. Sure that was her,” Eve realized as she studied the photo. “She kicked ass.”

“She did. Steak,” he repeated. “Top off the wine.”

Eve stood, studying the photo. She could see it now, though the woman had been easily three decades younger in the vid.

Did it apply that Callahan could project—hell, embody—every human emotion, make you believe she felt it?

When Roarke came out, she grabbed the bottle, his glass, took them to the table by the window. “Do you figure that kind of talent is inherent or learned?”

“I suspect some of both, but you can’t learn what isn’t in you, can you?”

“Don’t know. But I’m wondering if the skill can be passed on.”

Roarke set the plates down while Eve topped off the wine.

“Ah, as in could the granddaughter have her grandmother’s talent? Interesting. Well, there have been dynasties, family members who share interest and skills in various areas, acting included. But from her educational choices, it seems the granddaughter’s interest held in science and engineering, not the arts.”

“Yeah.” Still.

He’d chosen asparagus—a green thing she actually liked well enough—and tiny new potatoes with red skins roasted with butter and herbs. She added more butter to them anyway—she strongly believed you could never have too much butter—before she cut into the steak.

“Okay, so Eloise. She’s been recovering from pneumonia, still looks on the pale and frail side, but she came down on her own when Darla
was out of the room.” Now Eve rolled her eyes. “She liked the damn vid, and wanted to meet us—me and Peabody.”

Roarke only smiled, and listened as she relayed the interview, her impressions.

“You liked her,” Roarke concluded.

“I guess I did.” Eve stabbed a bite of potato. “Doesn’t mean I won’t take her down if she had any part in this.”

“You don’t think she did. I know my cop,” he added. “She’s as far down on your list as she can get without dropping off.”

“Maybe, yeah. I’ll say the affection between her and Darla read real, even deep, and while she looks damn good for ninety-whatever, you can see she’s getting over a serious illness. And she didn’t like Pettigrew. She didn’t roll over him—and I think she might have if the granddaughter hadn’t been around. She still wears a wedding ring, and her husband died decades ago.”

“Bradley Stone,” Roarke remembered. “Their love story’s another thing of legend. If the legend’s reality, she wouldn’t think much of a man who cheated on and betrayed a granddaughter she loves.”

Nodding, Eve waggled her fork. “Which is why she’s not all the way off the list. Maybe she’s covering for Darla. She might not be absolutely sure what Darla’s up to, but she covers for her. Like I said, the affection, devotion between them reads real. Would Darla leave her grandmother, still recovering from a serious illness, alone? Would she go out hunting and leave Eloise alone? Spend hours torturing her targets while Eloise slept upstairs?”

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