If Nina Cormier’s wedding had taken place, she would be dead. But after the bride was left at the altar, the church stood empty when the bomb exploded. It wasn’t until a stranger tried to run her off the road that Nina realized someone actually wanted to kill her. But who?
That’s what Detective Sam Navarro has to find out…fast. With a nightmare unfolding all around them, Sam and Nina must try to decipher the terrifying truth: they are at the mercy of a brilliant madman, one who is playing for keeps.…
First published in 1996.
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Keeper Of The Bride
By Tess Gerritsen
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2002 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
North Dade County Detention Center, Miami, Florida Halloween - Friday, October 31
Del Macomb wiped the sweat from his forehead with the sleeve of his shirt. The stiff cotton of his uniform stuck to his back, and it was only nine in the morning. How could it be this hot and humid in October? He had grown up just north of Hope, Minnesota. Back home, ice would be forming at the edges of Silver Lake. His daddy would be writing his sermons while watching the last of the snow geese pass overhead. Del pushed wet strands off his forehead. Thinking about his daddy reminded him that he needed a haircut. Crazy stuff to be thinking about. Even crazier that it was stuff that could still make him homesick.
"So who's the fucking asshole we're chaperoning today?" Del's partner startled him. He winced at Benny Zeeks's language, then glanced over at the barrel-chested ex-marine to see if he had noticed. He certainly didn't need another lecture - not that he didn't have a lot to learn from Benny.
"Guys said his name is Stucky." He wondered if Benny had heard him. He seemed preoccupied.
At North Dade County Detention Center Benny Zeeks was somewhat of a legend, not only because he was a twenty-five-year veteran, but because he had spent most of that time working up in Starke on death row andeven on X Wing. Del had seen his partner's scars from scuffles he'd won over X Wingers trying to avoid the coffin-like solitary confinement.
He watched Benny shove his shirtsleeves up over his veiny forearms, not bothering to fold or roll them, revealing one of those legendary scars. It intersected a tattoo, a Polynesian dancer who now had a jagged red line across her abdomen as if she had been sliced in half. Benny could still make the dancer dance, flexing his arm and sending the lower half of her into a slow, sexy sway while the other half - the top half - froze in place, disconnected. The tattoo fascinated Del, intriguing and repulsing him at the same time.
Now his partner climbed into the armored truck's passenger seat, concentrating on negotiating the narrow steps up into the cab. The man moved slower than usual this morning, and Del immediately knew his partner had another hangover. He swung up into the driver's seat, buckling himself in and pretending, once again, not to notice.
"Who'd you say this asshole is?" Benny asked, while he twisted his thermos lid, the short stubby fingers desperate to get at the coffee. Del wanted to tell him the caffeine would only compound his problem, but after four short weeks on the job, he knew better than to try to tell Benny Zeeks anything.
"We're taking Brice and Webber's run today."
"What the hell for?"
"Webber's got the flu and Brice broke his hand last night."
"How the fuck do you break a hand?"
"All I heard was that he broke it. I don't know how. Look, I thought you hated the monotony of our regular route. Plus, all the traffic just to get to the courthouse."
"Yeah, well, there better not be more paperwork," Benny shifted restlessly as if anticipating the dreaded change in his routine. "And if this is Brice and Webber's run, that means this asshole's headed up to Glades, right? Puttin' him in close custody until his fucking hearing. Means he's some big-time fuckup they don't want down here in our wussy detention lockup."
"Hector said the guy's name is Albert Stucky. Said he's not such a bad guy, pretty intelligent and friendly. Hector says he's even accepted Jesus Christ as his savior."
Del could feel Benny scowling at him. He turned the key in the ignition and let the truck vibrate, then rumble to a slow start while he braced himself for Benny's sarcasm. He turned the air-conditioning on, blasting them with hot air. Benny reached over and punched it off.
"Give the engine some time, first. We don't need that goddamn hot air in our faces."
Del felt his face grow red. He wondered if there would ever be anything he could do to win the respect of his partner. He ignored his simmering anger and rolled down the window. He pulled out the travel log and jotted down the truck's odometer and gas tank readings, letting the routine calm him.
"Wait a minute," Benny said. "Albert Stucky? I've been reading about this guy in the Miami Herald. Feebies nicknamed him The Collector."
"Yeah, FBI. Jesus, kid, don't you know anything?" This time Del could feel the prickle of red at his ears. He turned his head and pretended to be checking the side mirror.
"This Stucky guy," Benny continued, "he carved up and slaughtered three or four women, and not just here in Florida. If he's the guy I'm thinking of, he's one badass motherfucker. And if he's claiming he's found Jesus Christ, you can bet it's because he wants to save his sorry ass from being fried by Old Sparky."
"People can change. Don't you believe people can change?" Del glanced at Benny. The older man's brow was beaded with sweat and the bloodshot eyes glared at him.
"Jesus, kid. I bet you still believe in Santa Claus, too." Benny shook his head. "They don't send guys to wait for their trial in close custody because they think he's found Jesus-fucking-Christ."
Benny turned to stare out the window and sip his coffee. In doing so, he missed Del wince again. He couldn't help it. Twenty-two years with a daddy for a preacher made it an instant reaction, like scratching an itch. Sometimes he did it without even knowing.
Del slipped the travel log into the side pocket and shifted the truck into gear. He watched the concrete prison in his side-view mirror. The sun beat down on the yard where several prisoners milled around, bumming cigarettes off each other and enduring the morning heat. How could they enjoy being outside if there was no shade? He added it to his mental list of unfair treatment. Back in Minnesota, he had been quite the activist for prison reform. Lately he'd been too busy with the move and starting his new job, but he kept a running list for when he had more time. Little by little he'd work his way up to battling causes like eliminating Starke's X Wing.
As they approached the final checkpoint he glanced at the rearview mirror. He almost jumped, startled to find their prisoner staring back at him. All Del could see through the thick slit of glass were the piercing black eyes, and they were looking directly at him in the mirror.
Del recognized something in the prisoner's eyes, and a knot tightened in his stomach. He had seen that look years ago as a boy, on one of his trips accompanying his father. They had visited a condemned prisoner, who Del's father had met at one of his prison fellowship meetings. During that visit, the prisoner had confessed all the horrible, unimaginable things he had done to his own family before he murdered them - a wife, five children, and even the family dog.
As a boy, the details Del heard that day had been traumatizing, but even worse was the evil pleasure the prisoner seemed to get from retelling each detail and watching the impact on a ten-year-old boy. Now Del saw that same look in the eyes of the man in the back of the armored truck. For the first time in twelve years, he felt as if he was looking straight into the eyes of pure evil.
He made himself look away and avoided the temptation to glance back. He pulled out from the last checkpoint and onto the highway. Once they got on the open road, he could relax. He enjoyed driving. It gave him time to think. But when he took a quick left, Benny, who had appeared to be lost in his thoughts, suddenly became agitated.
"Where the hell you going? I-95's the other direction."
"I thought we'd take a shortcut. Highway 45 has less traffic, and it's a much nicer drive."
"You think I fucking care about nice?"
"It's shorter by about thirty minutes. We get the prisoner delivered, and then we'll have an extra half hour for lunch."
He knew his partner wouldn't argue with an extended lunch hour. In fact, he had hoped Benny would be impressed. Del was right. Benny leaned back in his seat and poured another cup of coffee. He reached over and punched the AC. This time, cool air began filling the cab, and Benny rewarded Del with a rare smile. Finally, he had done something right. Del sat back and relaxed.
They had left Miami's traffic and had been on the road only thirty minutes when a thump rattled the back of the truck. At first Del thought they had dropped a muffler, but the thumping continued. It came from the back of the truck but inside, not underneath.
Benny slammed his fist against the steel partition behind them. "Shut the fuck up."
Excerpted from Keeper Of The Bride by Tess Gerritsen Copyright © 2002 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.