The crime scene at St. Marguerite’s cathedral in New Orleans is shocking, even to seasoned detectives like Rick Bentz and Reuben Montoya. A novice nun named Sister Camille has been found dressed in a yellowed bridal gown and viciously garroted, her body covered with an altar cloth.
Valerie Houston is devastated by her sister’s death. For weeks, she’d begged Camille to leave St. Marguerite’s, where she seemed determined to live as some kind of martyr. But Camille had a knack for making bad choices — she joined the convent in part because she’d fallen for Val’s soon-to-be ex-husband, Slade.
Convinced the police aren’t doing enough, Val begins to investigate. Slade, on a mission to repair their marriage, is determined to help her. But the deeper Val’s inquiries go, the more twisted the case becomes. St. Marguerite’s is far from the tranquil retreat many believe, and everyone, from handsome Father Frank O’Toole to the mysterious Mother Superior, has their own agenda. Despite their closeness, even Camille had a hidden life Val never suspected. But someone knew about Camille’s past — and Val’s, too. Now she has no choice but to catch a devious, depraved killer intent on purging St. Marguerite’s of all its sins — before she becomes the next victim…
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By LISA JACKSON
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2011 Susan Lisa Jackson
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Chapter One"It's time." The voice was clear.
Smiling to herself, Camille felt a sublime relief as she finished pushing the last small button through its loop. She stared at herself in the tiny mirror and adjusted her veil.
"You're a vision in white," her father said.
But he wasn't here, was he? He wasn't walking her down the aisle. No, no, of course not. He'd died, years before. At least that was what she thought. But then her father wasn't her father ... only by law. Right? She blinked hard. Woozy, she tried to clear her brain, wash away the feeling of disembodiment that assailed her.
It's because it's your wedding day; your nerves are playing tricks on your brain.
"Your groom awaits." Again, the voice propelled her, and she wondered if someone was actually speaking to her or if she was imagining it.
Silly, of course it's real!
She left the small room where she'd dressed and walked unsteadily along the shadowed corridor, lit by only a few wavering sconces. Dark, yet the hallway seemed to glisten.
Down a wide staircase with steps polished from thousands of feet scurrying up and down, she headed toward the smaller chapel where she knew he was waiting.
Her heart pounded with excitement.
Her blood sang through her veins.
What a glorious, glorious night!
One hand trailed down the long, smooth banister, fingertips gliding along the polished rail.
"Hurry," a harsh voice ordered against her ear, and she nearly stumbled over the dress's hem. "You must not keep him waiting!"
"I won't," she promised, her voice reverberating from a distance, as if echoing through a tunnel. Or only in her head.
She picked up her skirt to move more quickly, her feet skimming along the floor. She felt light, as if floating, anticipation urging her forward.
Moonlight washed through the tall tracery windows, spilling shadowed, colored patterns on the floor, and as she reached the chapel, her legs wobbled, as if she were wearing heels.
But her feet were bare, the cold stone floor penetrating through her soles.
Poverty, chastity, obedience.
The words swirled through her brain as the door to the chapel was opened and she stepped inside. She heard music in her head, the voices of angels rising upward through the spires of St. Marguerite's Cathedral on this, her wedding day.
Night ... it's night.
Candles flickered at the altar, and overhead a massive crucifix soared, reminding her of Christ's suffering. She made the sign of the cross as she genuflected, then slowly moved forward.
Poverty. Chastity. Obedience.
Her fingers wound around the smooth beads of her rosary as the music in her head swelled.
As she reached the altar, the church bell began to toll and she knelt before the presence of God. She was ready to take her vows, to give her life to the one she loved.
"Good ... good ... perfect."
Camille bowed her head in prayer, then, on her knees, looked up at the crucifix, saw the wounds on Christ's emaciated body, witnessed his sacrifice for her own worldly sins.
Oh, yes, she had sinned.
Over and over.
Now she would be absolved.
Closing her eyes, she bent her head with difficulty. It seemed suddenly heavy, her hands clumsy. The chapel shifted and darkened, and the statuary, the Madonna and angels near the baptismal basin, suddenly stared at her with accusing eyes.
She heard the scrape of a shoe on the stone floor, and her lightheartedness and joy gave way to anxiety.
Don't give in. Not tonight ...
But even her wedding dress no longer seemed silky and light; the fabric was suddenly scratchy and rough, a musty smell wafting from it.
The skin on the back of her neck, beneath the cloying veil, prickled with anxiety.
No, no, no ... this is wrong.
"So now you know," the voice so near her ear reprimanded, and she shrank away from the hiss. "For the wages of sin are ..."
"Death," she whispered.
Sheer terror curdled her blood. Oh, God! Scared out of her mind, Camille tried to scramble to her feet.
In that instant, Fate struck.
The rosary was stripped from her hands, the beads ripping over her fingers and flesh, only to scatter and bounce on the floor.
Camille tried to force her feet beneath her, but her knees were weak, her legs suddenly like rubber. She tried to stand, pushing herself upright, but it was too late.
A thick cord circled her throat and was pulled tight.
NO! What is this?
Needle-sharp shards cut deep into her flesh.
Panic surged through her.
No, no, no! This is all wrong.
White-hot pain screamed through her body. She jerked forward, trying to throw off her attacker as her airway was cut off. She tried to gasp but couldn't draw a breath. Her lungs, dear Jesus, her lungs strained with the pressure.
Oh, God, what was happening?
The nave seemed to spin, the high-domed ceiling reeling, the monster behind her back drawing the deadly cord tighter.
Terror clawed through her brain. Desperately, Camille tried to free herself, to kick and twist again, but her body wouldn't respond as it should have. The weight against her back was crushing, the cord at her throat slitting deep.
Blood pounded behind her eyes, echoed through her ears.
Her fingers scrabbled at the cord around her neck, a fingernail ripping.
Her back bowed as she strained.
She fought wildly, but it was useless.
Please, please, please! Dear Father, spare me! I have sinned, but please—
Her feet slipped from beneath her.
Weakly she flailed, her strength failing her.
No, Camille. Fight! Don't give up! Do not! Someone will save you.
Her eyes focused on the crucifix again, her vision of Christ's haggard face blurring. I'm sorry ...
She was suddenly so weak, her attempts frail and futile.
Her strong body grew limp.
"Please," she tried to beg, but the sound was garbled and soft, unrecognizable.
The demon who dared set foot in this chapel, the monster who had defiled this holy ground, held her fast. Pulling on the cord. Unrelenting. Strong with dark and deadly purpose.
Camille's lungs were on fire, her heart pounding so loudly she was sure it would burst. Through eyes round with fear, she saw only a wash of red.
Oh, Dear Father, the pain!
Again, she tried to suck in one bit of air but failed.
Her lungs shrieked.
Brutal strength, infused by a cold, dark wrath, cinched the garrote still tighter.
Agony ripped through her.
"Whore," the voice accused. "Daughter of Satan."
Eyes open, again she saw the image of Christ on the cross, a film of scarlet distorting his perfect face, tears like blood running from his eyes.
I love you.
The deluge of sins that was her life washed over her, quicksilver images of those she had wronged. Her mother and father, her sister, her best friend ... so many people, some who had loved her ... the innocents.
This was her punishment, she realized, her hands falling from her neck to scrape down her abdomen and linger for a second over her womb.
Zzzzt. Snap! A bright light flashed before her eyes; then all was dark.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, wash my soul clean.... Forgive me, for I have sinned....
Chapter Two"Oh, for the love of St. Jude!" Valerie clicked the ESCAPE key on her laptop again and again, as if she could punch the life back into the hand-me-down computer with its antiquated hard drive and mind of its own. "Come on, come on!" she muttered between clenched teeth, then gave up, unable to turn the damned thing off without taking out the battery.
That did it! Tomorrow she'd go computer shopping despite the dismal state of her bank account. She still had a little room on her credit card, but then, once she bought a new computer, it would be maxed out as well.
The price of divorce, she told herself callously as she shoved the laptop onto the rumpled bedclothes. In her mismatched pajamas, she walked into the kitchen of the small carriage house and dipped her head under the faucet for a drink, then stared through the rain-spattered window at the uneasy New Orleans night.
The air was thick with the coming of summer, sweat dampening her skin. She cranked open the window, allowing the dank smell of the slow-moving river to roll inside. Far away, the hum of traffic could be heard on the freeway, a steady rush that competed with the song of crickets and the low rumble of toads.
Pealing forlornly, the bells of St. Marguerite's struck off the hours of midnight.
Inexplicably, Val's skin crawled. Her cop instincts went into overdrive, and she felt, again, as if she were being watched, that hidden eyes were assessing her.
"Too many nights with the sci-fi channel," she told herself. "Too many nightmares."
For a fleeting second, a splintered memory with sharp, brittle edges pierced her brain. Looming. Indistinct. But evil.
Her blood chilled with the image. Draped in black, with cruel eyes and a foul odor, the sinister creature grew larger. Threatening. A chain dangling from its clawlike hand.
No one could help her.
No one could save her.
"Husssshhh," the creature hissed, lowering the silvery noose. "Hush."
Camille! Val thought in horror. This demon wants Camille....
In a blink, the horrifying image disappeared, shrinking into the corners of her mind. From experience, Val knew it would lurk there until, unbidden, it would rise again.
"Leave me alone," she muttered under her breath, ignoring the hairs that had risen on the back of her arm. The fiend was a figment of her imagination, nothing more—nothing a sane, stable woman would believe.
Val took a steadying breath as the church bells of St. Marguerite's continued to toll plaintively through the night. Her insides still cold, she gripped the edge of the counter to steady herself and force the ugly apparition back where it belonged—into the darkest nether regions of her mind, into the crevices where sanity didn't dare tread.
Don't go there, she warned herself silently. Do not go there. Dwelling on the insidious pictures in her mind would only create a self-fulfilling and hideous prophecy.
"Everything's fine," she said out loud, though her insides were trembling. Quivering with a fear that she tried to keep hidden. No one could know. She was a strong woman. Nightmares or visions conjured by her willing brain weren't allowed to scare her. "For God's sake, get a grip!"
Willing herself to let go of the counter and her ridiculous fears, she told herself she was just stressed out. Who wouldn't be? An impending divorce, a lost career, a business teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, and a sister, her only sibling, intent on taking vows in a convent right out of the Middle Ages! And then there was the e-mail from Camille. Disturbing.
Val thought about St. Marguerite's, the historic cathedral where her sister would eventually take her vows.
That is, if they let her.
It still seemed so out of character for Camille, the party girl. Always with a boyfriend, always fending off trouble. From what she knew about St. Marguerite's, Valerie doubted that her sister's sins would be easily forgiven in that arena. St. Marguerite's Convent, with its locked gates, antiquated communication system, and strict rules, seemed more like a medieval fortress than a house of God; it was an isolated place the rest of the twenty-first century had zipped past. The people within those hallowed walls harkened back to earlier centuries where archaic conventions, cruel discipline, and antediluvian opinions prevailed. Probably because of the abbess or mother superior or whatever that old bat Sister Charity called herself. A throwback to the days of wearing dark habits, rapping the knuckles of unsuspecting students, and using threats and fear over praise, Sister Charity was as much a warden as she was a leader.
Why Camille ever decided to take her vows at an institution as rigid as Saint Marguerite's remained a mystery.
No, it's not. You know the reasons—you just can't face them.
A whisper of evil skittered through Sister Lucia's brain.
Her eyes flew open to the blackness of her tiny room in the convent. Her skin crawled, and her mouth tasted of metal. Father in heaven, please let this just be the remnant of a bad dream, a nightmare that—
There it was again, that horrid precursor of what was to come. She tossed off the thin covers and slid to her knees, her nightgown puddling around her as she instinctively reached for her rosary draped over the metal bedpost. She made the sign of the cross with the crucifix and began to silently recite the Apostles' Creed, her lips moving in the darkness, sweat collecting at the base of her skull. "I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth...." And she did believe. Fervently. Usually she found comfort in this ritual she'd learned in her youth. In times of stress or worry or need, she sought solace by running her fingers over the glossy beads and whispering the prayers that brought her closer to God.
Pssst! Again the electric current that hissed beneath her skin brought sweat to her brow.
Not here, oh, please ... not in the convent! Her prayer was interrupted and she started over, squeezing her eyes shut, leaning into the thin mattress with her elbows, her brain thrumming.
Once again she touched the crucifix to her forehead and began the succession of prayers that came so easily to her mind.
This has to be a mistake, she thought wildly as the familiar words slipped over her lips. Since she'd entered St. Marguerite's, intent on taking her final vows, she'd had no "incidents," as her mother had called them. She'd thought she was safe here.
"I believe in—"
Psssst! Louder this time.
The painful jolt cut through the darkness.
Lucia sucked in her breath and dropped her rosary, her prayer again cut short. She stood, abandoning any attempt to forestall the inevitable. Walking barefoot over the hardwood floors, she sensed the tremor of trouble brewing as surely as a hurricane off the Louisiana coast. In her mind's eye, she saw the chapel of this very parish and blinked against an onslaught of images.
An indistinct face.
Billowing dark robe.
Twisted, deadly lips.
A heavy door clicking as it closed.
A bloody crucifix, crimson dripping from Christ's sacred wounds.
Death, a voice intoned over the raw static in her brain.
She flew into the hall, which was dimly lit by scattered wall sconces, and descended the curving staircase. Her fingers trailing along the worn banister, she followed a predetermined path. Pale light passed through the dark panes of stained glass, the heat of the June day still lingering into night.
Why? Lucia wondered frantically. Why now? Why here? It's nothing ... just a bad dream. All your fears crystalized, that's all.
Her heart pounding like an erratic drum, she turned toward the chapel, the smaller place of worship tucked behind the huge cathedral. With a sense of darkness propelling her forward, she pushed through double doors that parted easily and stepped into God's house. The chapel was usually a place of light and goodness, forgiveness and redemption, but tonight she sensed that evil as dark as Satan's soul lurked here, lying in wait.
"Father, please be with me." She dipped her fingertips in holy water and crossed herself as she entered the nave, where all of the images congealed. Red votive candles flickered, casting shadows that shifted on the stone walls. A massive crucifix was suspended from the arched ceiling over the altar where Jesus, in his agony, watched over the chapel.
Instinctively, Lucia made the sign of the cross again. The thrumming in her brain turned into a throb.
From the corner of her eye, she caught a glimpse of movement—a dark figure in billowing robes disappearing through a door.
"Father?" she called, thinking the person running from the chapel was a priest. The door clicked closed. "Wait! Please ..." She started for the doorway. "Father— Oh, no ..." Her voice left her as she glimpsed a flutter of gauzy white fabric, the scallop of lace undulating on the floor by the first row of pews.
Her heart nearly stopped.
The horrid, rapid-fire images that had awakened her seared through her brain again:
A door shutting as the church bells pealed.
Just like before.
The whisper of evil brushed the back of her neck again. She nearly stumbled as she raced forward, her bare feet slapping the cold stone floor, echoing to the high, coved ceiling.
This can't be happening!
It can't be!
Excerpted from DEVIOUS by LISA JACKSON Copyright © 2011 by Susan Lisa Jackson. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Wonderful Book I enjoyed reading. kept me entertained all the way through.
Lisa Jackson wove new characters with familiar faces to deliver an edge-of-your-seat thriller. Detectives Bentz and Montoya are back for a roller coaster ride of excitement as they try to hunt down the latest killer in New Orleans. Half-way through the book I figured out "who done it" OR so I thought I did. The ending left me not only surprised but wanting more! Thanks Lisa for a great read!
This was the first book by Lisa Jackson I have read. As a mystery/suspense lover I will be reading more of her books in the future. But I was not totally happy with this one. It was very well-written and the story was engaging and made me want to find out who did it. But I didnt really think we got all the answers in the end. I really liked the Detectives assigned to the case, and I am looking forward to going back and reading more of the books they are in. I love the New Orleans setting. It really is such a great city for a backdrop. Val and Slade made a great pair. We got plenty of info on their background and relationship and got to watch them in part work though their issues. Although the resolution of their problems did seem a bit rushed and just ok, its over now, lets forget it ever happened type of resolution. But I didn't feel like we really got to understand the motives behind the Mother Superior and Fr. O'Toole. They have secrets and I don't think we really get to find out what they are. Same thing with the novices. There is such a connection there that can really make another intriguing story. But in this one, assuming we never see these characters again. I'm pretty disappointed. I want to know more of what they are hiding and why, And why did these novices join the convent, they all seem to have a great history behind them before they came. What made them join. Same with the murdered victim, Camille. We know she developed a crush on Slade but that doesnt fully explain why she joined the convent or why she had such a secretive hidden life. Overall though its a great mystery. And it does get wrapped up in the end. All the main points are covered and explained. I guess I just wanted to know more about the secrets hidden inside the walls. I will definitely be reading more of her books. And will recommend her to others who like this genre. Just maybe not this one first.
This book is not for the faint of heart! Definite must read for any Bentz/Montoya fan. LJ writes for adults. Anyone over 16 years of age qualifies. Not recommended for anyone younger due to content. This is a definite read and highly recommended for book club discussion(s). A friend and I love the Bentz/Montoya series! We are always anxiously awaiting the next in the series and have very long discussions about Bentz and Montoya as if they are friends of the family (I wish!!) You keep writing them LJ and I'll keep reading.
It was Godawful! The author should go to a Priest for absolution! I lost my interest when the nun's baby was typed with Rh negative blood, & a Crime Scene Investigation Tech SERIOUSLY says "The baby's father must be Rh negative." What in the world is it with female mystery authors and a lack of knowledge about ABO Rh blood grouping? This is the third one yet I've caught in an error. It really isn't rocket science. Rh negative is a recessive trait. Two Rh positive individuals can have a recessive allele & pass it on to the unborn child. I lost my interest in the book at that point, & only kept losing it when the story got diverted to the priest who I believe was supposed to resemble a serial killer in an earlier book. Having looked at Ms. Jackson's work in the library, it seems some of her other books show a dislike for the Roman Catholic Church. One book with such a theme, well, that's one thing, but multiple books? Really? No thanks.
Devious! I'm used to Lisa starting a book out great from page 1 thru ending. This was a very slow moving book - had a hard time picking it up to read. Not up to her normal suspenseful books like Malice! For her - boring!
This book had alot of twist and turns. Good book to have when on the road driving kepts you alert.
I love the Bentz and Montoya mysteries. I've read them all. his one seemed to drag a little more than the others, but is still a good read.
I finushed thus book but it i s not the tyoe if drana I desire. The story is too demonic for my taste. Too many graphic details.
Let me tell you this was a really good, if not great, example of romantic suspense. The action takes place in New Orleans with some familiar detectives at the helm, Montoya and Bentz. As with previous stories involving these members of New Orleans finest, there is some personal interest.Montoya dated the first murder victim, Camille Renard, back in high school. If that's not personal enough, his younger brother Cruz dated the lady that found that body. What makes this all the more interesting is that both ladies are now nuns. Camille's sister, Valerie, is shocked over the murder especially since she knew that Camille was planning on leaving the church due to a pregnancy. What is even more surprising, is that Sister Camille was evidently having a relationship with one of the priests? Is it possible that Father Frank is the murderer? Both the Catholic Church and New Orleans have been hit hard in recent years, but can the Church survive a murder spree of nuns and novitiates that all appear to have had relations with one of its priests? There's a lot more going on that meets the eye with this story. The heat gets turned up a notch when Cruz Montoya returns to New Orleans and tries to restart a relationship with Sister Lucia. The heat gets even hotter when Valerie's estranged husband, Slade Houston, shows up on the very night that Camille is murdered. Slade's presence forces Valerie to re-evaluate her belief in her sister's word, namely that Slade attempted to seduce her rather than vice versa. (Hard to believe that someone so focused on sex that she¿s willing to attempt seducing her brother-in-law wanted to be a nun? Oh yeah, that probably explains her pregnancy and affair with the priest!) Thankfully there's a diary that reveals almost as much as it hides.The twists and turns in this story are just as devious as the actions of the murderer. Just when you think you know who the culprit is or where the story is going there's another unexpected twist to shake things up and keep you guessing. It is for these reasons that I enjoyed reading Devious. If you're into romantic suspense or just suspense then this is probably a good book for you.
The proprietors at Roma¿s Preread Books, in Rockwall, TX were kind enough to give me an advance uncorrected proof to Devious in April. From the moment I picked up the book, I could not put it down.
I have read many books by Lisa Jackson, but Devious: A Bentz and Montoya Novel is by far the best. The plot twists and turns, the characters have many facets, and the book does not rely on sex to fill in the gaps.
Valerie Radnar, a one-time police detective, is now a woman torn by the actions of her sister and her husband. She returned to New Orleans in an attempt to put her life back together, only to be devastated once again when her sister, now a Catholic novice, turns up murdered. Her husband Slade returns the same night, and Valerie must deal with the confusion of having a husband she still loves, while trying to sort out the enigma of her sister, and the actions of a serial murderer at St. Marguerite. The plot thickens when detectives discover that many of the participants attended the same high school, and many spent time at St. Elsinore before their adoption. Add in crime scene elements related to a serial killer Detective Bentz hunted at some point in the past and a nun with ESP, and the story leaves the reader trying to find all the clues to piece the story together.
A great read, diverting and positive. Thoroughly enjoyable, thank you Roma¿s Preread Books.
Love lisa jackson book as i expexted , couldnt put the book down and i was on the edge of my seat
Val and her sister was put in an orphanage after their parents died. After Camille grew up she became a party girl, but eventually she entered a convent. Then Camille was found murdered in a old wedding gown. Camille was found on the altar of St Marguerittes convent. Detective Rick Bentz and his partner Rueben Montoya are investigating the murder. The lead suspect being Father O’Toole. The more nuns are found murdered . I found this story a little confusing at times with many layers but I still really liked it. It was definitely a good story and plot. I liked the twists and turns with Val as well as the detectives as they went deeper in this case. I recommend. **I received an ARC of this story for an honest review