Under suspicion, p.1
Under Suspicion, page 1
PRAISE FOR RACHEL LEE AND HER ROMANTIC SUSPENSE NOVELS
WHEN I WAKE
“This is a taut mystery/adventure that will keep you on the edge of your seat as danger lurks behind every wave. An excellent story with realistic characterizations and a bang-up climax.”
“When I Wake is an exciting romantic suspense that stars two wonderful lead characters and a strong support cast. The story line is loaded with action.”
“A beautifully written story of love, adventure, and danger… every story she tells is simply the greatest.”
BEFORE I SLEEP
“A wonderfully crafted, suspenseful tale with just the right balance of romance and mystery.”
“A powerhouse novel full of excitement and romance. Ms. Lee is an accomplished writer, and her expertise in setting scenes, developing characters, and creating suspense is evident.… The plot never faltered… you will not be disappointed.”
“A powerful writer…. Before I Sleep is a gripping romantic suspense book… and much, much more. It’s a compelling emotional novel.”
—Heart to Heart
“Tight and dramatic… a well-written piece of romantic suspense…. It keeps the reader glued to the page.”
—Affaire de Coeur
“A nail-biting, engaging story… a web of suspense and emotion… Before I Sleep is not a book you want to begin reading late at night unless you plan to go without sleep. It immediately grabs your attention and pulls you in. Very satisfying and enjoyable.”
—Bookbug on the Web
AFTER I DREAM
“The consistently excellent Rachel Lee outdoes herself with this fabulous new romantic thriller. This book is utterly gripping from beginning to end.”
“A fabulous romantic thriller with the accent on the thrills. The story line is fast-paced and filled with suspense and tension.”
—Midwest Book Review
“Rachel Lee never loses control of her clean, tight plot.”
“A fascinating maze of clues will keep the readers enthralled.”
ALSO BY RACHEL LEE
Before I Sleep
After I Dream
When I Wake
WARNER BOOKS EDITION
Copyright © 2001 by Sue Civil-Brown
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First eBook Edition: October 2009
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PRAISE FOR RACHEL LEE AND HER ROMANTIC SUSPENSE NOVELS
ALSO BY RACHEL LEE
At last! The night was at hand. Hiding in plain sight, the watcher saw the head curator come into the lobby of the Museum of Antiquities. Anna Lundgren was tall, slender, redheaded; dressed more like a woman than he’d ever seen, in her clinging black evening sheath and black high heels. She paused to share a few words with the security guard, then scanned the room.
She looked nervous. He wasn’t surprised. As her green eyes scraped over him, noticing but not noticing him, he saw the uneasiness there. It was supposed to be her night of triumph, and he thought she must be afraid that something would go wrong. She had absolutely no idea just how wrong it was going to go.
He hugged the knowledge to himself, watching as she circulated among the early arrivals. Tonight was the big night, the private showing of the museum’s new visiting exhibit: Mysteries of the Maya. Museum benefactors and university officials were arriving steadily and beginning to partake of the sumptuous hors d’oeuvres and open bar. Docents in dark green blazers with gold crests milled around, looking nervous in anticipation of their first public performance.
Moving slowly, with apparent lack of direction, he eased himself steadily closer to Anna Lundgren. She was talking to Mike Armbruster, one of the museum’s board of directors.
He got close enough to eavesdrop in time to hear Armbruster tell her, “Sammy Doe walked me through a little while ago.” Sammy was one of the student docents, a reliable, intelligent young man. “I’m impressed. You deserve every star in your crown tonight. Enjoy the triumph.”
Anna looked delighted. A smile sparkled on her face. He savored her delight. It would accentuate her fall.
“You ought to wear black more often,” Armbruster remarked as he turned away. “Brings out all the fire in your red hair.”
Anna’s face fell, and the watcher figured she didn’t like the remark. It seemed to threaten her. Well, she didn’t know what threat was.
Anna turned, her eyes grazing over him. A faint smile came to her mouth, acknowledging him, but the watcher knew she didn’t really see him. People rarely saw him clearly, unless he made a point of getting their attention, and he liked it that way. Carefully, he followed her across the increasingly crowded room.
Several state senators and legislators graced the crowd now, as well as the high muckety-mucks from the university and museum. The watcher barely saw them. He wasn’t interested in them at all. They made an annoying background buzz, a series of elegantly clad obstacles in his path.
Anna’s hair made her easy to follow. The color of polished, new copper. She would make a beautiful sacrifice to end the curse, the watcher thought. Perfect. Exquisite. Fire to end fire. How appropriate.
Elegant, too, he thought, as he continued to follow her, listening as she exchanged meaningless pleasantries with people she didn’t know. Gracious. They should only know her as he knew her. They’d never imagine her grubby with sweat and grime over the past months as they’d struggled to build the exhibit’s framework. They couldn’t imagine how she looked with her hair in her eyes as she unpacked the artifacts when they arrived, or the way she swore when she nicked a finger or made a mistake on a catalogue entry.
But he knew. He’d been watching her for months, tucked away among the crews that had labored so mightily to bring vistas of the Yucatán to the museum. He saw a great deal to admire in her, much to respect. Otherwise, she would have been a poor sacrifice.
The watcher was a smart man, though, and he knew he had to set things up in a way that would let her know what was happening, but conceal his part in it. Toward that end he was patient, and tonight would only start the ball rolling.
He saw Anna try to slip past Reed Howell, a reporter from the Sentinel, but she didn’t make it. He snagged her, and looked at her with those opaque shark’s eyes of his. The watch
“Hi, Anna,” Howell said. “Exciting night, yes?”
“Very,” she agreed, smiling sweetly. The watcher knew she was faking it. “We’re all thrilled to see our dreams come to fruition.”
But Howell was looking at Anna as if she were bait in the water. Good. It would begin.
“I can imagine,” the reporter said pleasantly enough. He pulled a notebook and pen out of his pocket, but he didn’t write down what she’d already said. Instead he looked at her, his pen poised. “I was wondering how you feel professionally about hyping the Pocal Curse to increase public interest in this exhibit.”
Her face stiffened, but the smile remained. “The Pocal Curse is part of the story of some of the items we’re exhibiting, Reed. I don’t have any qualms about exciting the public’s imagination. Times have changed; museums can no longer rely on dusty exhibits and neatly typed little cards. As I see it, we’re merely enhancing the educational process.”
He nodded, and this time scribbled at least part of her remark on his pad. She waited with apparent patience, but the watcher could see she was dying to escape.
Reed looked up from his notes. “That’s the standard explanation for this kind of showmanship,” he said.
“Yes, and it’s a good one. We’d like to share these exciting artifacts and all this wonderful history with a broader audience. And that’s why we’re highlighting the curse in our promotional materials.”
“And not to make money?”
The watcher thought he detected tension in her face, as if she were holding in irritation. “Money? We’re a nonprofit organization. What we hope to get out of this is enough public interest to pay the cost of the exhibit. If we do, we’ll be able to bring other exciting exhibits here.”
“And you have no professional qualms about touting a curse. You don’t find it the least bit unscientific?”
“What’s unscientific about it? We’re reporting a fact. It is part of Mayan lore that there is a curse on Pocal’s burial site. And we state quite clearly that it is folk legend that says there is a curse on the jade dagger.” She paused, taking a breath and visibly relaxing. “You will tour the exhibit tonight, won’t you? You can see for yourself how we’ve handled it, rather than take my word for it.”
He smiled, but his eyes were still opaque. “I’ve seen how you handled it all right. Pictures on every local TV station showing how the staff unpacked some of the items without touching them, supposedly because of the curse. Pure hype. Great promo, though.”
Her tone grew faintly defensive. “I’m not responsible for how the media choose to portray things.”
“No.” Howell kept smiling. “Don’t you feel at least a personal qualm about hyping this curse?”
Her smile slipped, and she looked dubiously at him. “I already told you how I feel. The curse is simply a tool to get attention. A little showmanship has to be part of the modern museum.”
“I know, I know. But I’m talking about you, personally, not Anna Lundgren, curator. Don’t you feel at least a little trepidation or disgust about using the curse?”
“Why should I?”
“Because it killed your father sixteen years ago.”
At that Anna clearly gave up all pretense of pleasantness. She took a quick step away, her face red and her mouth tight. But it seemed her anger wouldn’t let her leave without having the last word.
Pausing, she fixed him with an icy glare. “Stick to the facts, Reed. An earthquake killed my father.”
Soon. The thought kept him going through the endless hour of cocktail-party banter. The watcher waited for Anna to go to her office, where he knew the index cards for her speech were waiting, but she kept right on smiling and talking to everyone who had come. It was her job, of course, to keep the money people happy, but the watcher was growing just a little impatient as the minutes ticked by.
Finally, he settled near a hallway marked EMPLOYEES ONLY. That was when he realized he might have made a mistake.
A small, odd-looking man wearing a dark, out-of-date suit with a polka-dotted burgundy bow tie, wandered over and stood on the other side of the hallway entrance, leaning back and folding his arms.
The watcher observed him surreptitiously, wondering where this relic had come from. The man’s dark hair was slicked back, and his moustache, stiffened with wax, curled at the ends. It was an odd thing to see on someone who couldn’t be over forty, if that.
Not only was the man odd-looking, but he didn’t fit the current crowd at all. In a room aswirl with evening gowns and tuxedos, he looked like a man who’d lost his way. Maybe he was some faculty member. The watcher had noticed that a surprising number of professors seemed to eschew fashion of any kind and take pride in dowdiness.
It was then that the man, who seemed to feel the watcher’s gaze on him, turned and looked at him. The watcher wanted to draw back, but forced himself to remain outwardly indifferent. Unlike most people, however, the little man’s gaze didn’t glide over him without seeing him. Instead those two dark eyes fixed on him, measured him, acknowledged him.
“Quite a squeeze, isn’t it,” the little man said.
“This isn’t the kind of thing I ordinarily like to do.”
The man seemed to expect some response and waited until the watcher gave it to him.
The man shrugged. “Just not my cup of tea. Oh, I’d come to see the exhibit as a regular visitor, but these society splashes… Well, I wouldn’t be here except for my aunt. She wanted an escort.”
The watcher nodded as if he understood, then looked out toward the crowd, pretending to have lost interest. He wondered if he should move away, then decided that was unnecessary. The silly little man didn’t know what he was thinking, and would have forgotten him five minutes after he left tonight.
Where was Anna? For an instant he feared he’d lost sight of her, but then her copper-colored hair emerged from behind an extremely tall man, and she began to head toward the office. Good, she was coming to get her notes for her speech. And there she would find the gift he’d left for her.
Anticipation filled him, drying his mouth and moistening his palms. This was it. Unfortunately, he thought with a sidelong glace at the little man, he wasn’t going to be able to dart down the hallway and listen to her reaction. Not with that guy watching….
Anna breezed past, glancing at neither of them. She was looking really nervous now. It was nearly time to give her speech. He’d heard her say several times over the last week that she hated to give speeches. The watcher enjoyed knowing that. He enjoyed knowing her every weakness, and figured over the next days he would learn many more of them.
“Beautiful woman,” remarked the odd little man.
The watcher nodded, then returned his attention to the gathering. Go away, he silently ordered his unwelcome companion.
But just then, from down the hallway, he heard Anna’s cry. He hesitated, unwilling to dash back there when the man would notice. But then, strangely enough, he was rescued by his companion, who rushed down the hallway.
As soon as the footsteps stopped, the watcher peered around the corner. The man was in Anna’s office, the way was clear. Soundless in his rubber-soled shoes, he made his way back there. Beside Anna’s office there was an alcove, meant to hold vending machines that had not yet been installed. It gave him a perfect cave from which to listen.
“It’s nothing,” he heard her say. “I was just surprised.”
“What is it?”
“It’s nothing,” she said more firmly. “A joke.”
A joke? The watcher didn’t want her to think it was a joke. It was meant to frighten her. Annoyance pricked him.
“Is that a dagger?” the little man asked. “It must be old. From the exhibit?”
“It’s a replica. I cried out because for an instant I thought it was the real one.”
Unfortunately, to the watcher it sounded as if the little man grew even more interested, not less.
“It’s probably just a gift from someone,” Anna said firmly. “A memento. Or a joke. Here’s an envelope. I’m sure the card inside says who sent it.”
“Don’t open it,” the stranger said sharply. “There might be prints on it.”
The watcher smiled to himself. He had taken great care not to leave any fingerprints.
“Prints?” Anna sounded startled. “Why would anyone be worried about that? Are you crazy?”
“Oh. I forgot.” The little man paused, and there was a rustling sound. Pulling out his wallet? Opening his coat? “Clarence Tebbins, Tampa PD.”
The watcher started a bit, and felt his heart slam. He hadn’t expected the police to get involved this soon.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” Anna said a little sharply. “This isn’t a police matter. It’s just a… gift or a joke.”
Unfortunately, the cop seemed to disagree. “You look pretty pale to me. My guess is that you don’t really think it’s that innocent.”
“Look, I don’t have time for this. I have to give a speech.”
A chair creaked. Tebbins sitting? Then the little man spoke again, ignoring Anna’s objection. “Do you have any idea who sent this?”
“I could open the envelope,” Anna said acidly. “Or I could speculate that it’s a gag gift from the staff.”
“Why a gag gift?”
“Well, there’s supposedly a curse attached to the real dagger. Anyone who touches it will die a horrible death.”
“I see. Not a very friendly joke,” Tebbins remarked after a moment.
“Or possibly a juvenile one.” Tissue paper rustled. Was she handling the dagger or was he? Or was she just rewrapping it?
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