For him, the thrill lies in the hunt. In striking only when the moon is full. In his victims' agony as he leaves them with the perfect calling card: a broken heart carved into their chests. . .
. . .Could End With Her Life
After months on the trail of the twisted Seattle serial rapist, Detective Vincent D'Ambruzzi is closing in on his quarry--no thanks to the uncooperative Ivy Pennington, M.D. Soon, D'Ambruzzi discovers that he isn't the only one infuriated--and captivated--by the beautiful ER physician. Hidden in the shadows, looming closer with every phase of the moon, is the stranger he seeks--and he's bent on making Ivy his next victim. . .
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Three weeks earlier
Ivy Pennington was becoming upwardly mobile today and several of her cousins had turned out to lend their assistance getting her moved. They arrived with the dawn at her old apartment above Aunt Babe and Uncle Mack's garage.
Ivy had packed her coffee maker the night before and much to everyone's disgust couldn't remember into which box it had been stuffed. Yawning and bleary-eyed, her helpers stumbled up and down the exterior staircase in the early morning chill as they emptied out her apartment, loading her possessions into Sam's truck, Terry's van and Ivy's car. When the last swear word had faded, the last stray item had been tucked into a free corner in one of the vehicles, they formed a convoy and pulled out of the driveway. Their only stop was at a drive-through window at McDonald's for coffee, and by the time they reached her new apartment, everyone had finally started to come alive.
Ivy, Sherry and Jaz unloaded labeled boxes, the lighter pieces of furniture, armloads of hangered clothing, and the one plant Ivy had managed not to kill. Sam, Davis, Terry, and Sherry's husband, Ben, handled the heavier furniture. They had to make several trips from the vehicles to the apartment and high spirits rapidly began to replace the sleepiness with which they'd begun the day. As was usual when they got together, their conversation rapidly degenerated into a lot of noisy, good-natured squabbling and boisterous laughter.
Ivy's belongings were banged around with careless abandon, bounced like so many bumper cars off walls and doorways. Her pride and joy, however, her brand new, tapestry-upholstered hide-a-bed couch, they treated with kid gloves. Everyone knew how long Ivy had had to save to buy it.
She stroked its rich fabric affectionately and directed Davis and Terry in its placement, making them move it three separate times in her search for the perfect spot to display it to its best advantage. The men set it down in the third location with an air of finality, and exchanging a glance, flopped down on its cushions. Ivy stood back and eyed the couch's position critically, undecided if it looked better where it was or against the wall where they'd tried it a moment ago. She opened her mouth, but Terry correctly read her intention and forestalled her.
"Forget it, Ivy," he advised her with calm finality. "We aren't moving it again. Sucker weighs a ton and it looks just fine right here."
Ivy gave him a look she had patented when she was about twelve years old. Terry all but yawned, plainly unaffected, so she transferred it to Davis. He'd always been an easier touch anyway.
He shifted uneasily. "Don't look at me like that. I hate it when you do that."
Terry grinned. "It's her I'm-the-cutest-puppy-in-the-pound-and-they' re-gonna-gas-me-any-minute look." He made his voice a high falsetto. "Save me, Davis. Save me!" Ivy wanted to laugh, but she knew she had Davis on the ropes, so she intensified the soulfulness of her expression instead. Now if only she could dredge up a tear or two ...
"Knock it off, Ive," Davis demanded. "I mean it. It's not gonna work; I quit fallin' for that big-eyed look when I was about fourteen."
Sam strolled in from the kitchen clutching a pair of long-necked beer bottles in each hand. Passing them around, he directed a smile of brotherly maliciousness at Davis. "Wasn't that the year you decided you were gonna marry Ivy when you both grew up?" He flopped onto the couch between his brother and cousin, and Ivy knew she could kiss goodbye to any hope of having them move it for her again. There had been a slim chance she might have swayed Davis, in which case Terry might have agreed to go along with it, but Sam and Terry combined? Not a prayer.
"Yes," Davis replied, giving his brother a sour look. "It was; thanks for remindin' me. You broke my heart that year when you told me first cousins couldn't marry because their babies would all turn out to be drooling idiots."
"Sam, you didn't!" Ivy sank cross-legged to the floor in front of them. She took a sip of her beer and gave her cousin a wry, one-sided smile. A strange expression on Terry's face momentarily caught her attention, but Sam's reply recaptured it before she could pin down or interpret its meaning.
"Hey, I had it on the best authority," he said with a shrug. "Inbreeding weakens the genes. Besides, the way I remember it, Davis, your heart didn't remain broken for long. You consoled yourself within the week with little Judy what's-her-name."
"Helman," Davis clarified. "Judy Helman."
"Hey, I remember her!" Jaz exclaimed, walking into the room. She handed Ivy a pillow and tossed one down on the hardwood floor for herself. Ivy rolled up on one hip and slid the pillow beneath her buttocks while Jaz settled onto her own beside her. "She was the first girl in the fifth grade to wear a bra. God, how I envied her."
"At my school that would have been Beth Johnson," Ivy said. "Big Boobs Beth, we called her. At least the girls did. I think the boys called her for dates — or whatever the fifth grade equivalent is."
"Hey, what's going on in here?" Sherry and Ben came out of the bedroom and walked down the short hallway. "You lazy bums! Are Ben and me the only ones still working?" She stopped in the living room entrance and stared down at her cousins, her hands propped on her plumply rounded hips. "And you're drinking beer? Good God, you guys, it's barely noon." Then she shrugged. "Oh, what the hell — gimme one too. We've been workin' our tails off since daybreak."
"They're on the door in the fridge," Sam informed her. "Grab one for Ben while you're at it."
"Get me one too," Jaz demanded.
"Sammy and Ben set up your bed, Ivy," Sherry called from the kitchen. "I made it up with the sheets and a blanket I found in one of the boxes." The beer bottles on the refrigerator door rattled as she slammed it closed. "I couldn't find your comforter, though."
"Thanks, Sherry," Ivy replied and smiled up at her cousin as she rejoined the group in the living room. "It's got to be around here somewhere; it'll surface once I get everything unpacked."
Sherry handed a sweating bottle of beer to her husband and one to Jaz, then took a seat in Ivy's overstuffed chair. "This is gettin' kinda shabby, babe," she informed her cousin as she ran a hand over the worn fabric. "I never noticed that before." She looked up from the thinning material and gave Ivy a crooked smile. "I suppose it's the comparison to your brand new couch."
"It's pretty ratty," Ivy agreed gloomily. "But for the time being it's just going to have to do. It'll be six months at least before I can afford a new one."
"And you haven't rushed right out to charge one anyway?" Ben marveled with ironic incredulousness. "Are you positive you and Sherry are related?"
His wife nudged him with her toe. "Funny, Ben. Extremely droll."
"I have student loans that will take me a good five years yet to pay off," Ivy told Ben. "And payments for my new car — not to mention higher insurance rates now that I'm no longer driving a thirteen-year-old rust bucket." She waved her hand, indicating the apartment "And malpractice insurance and higher rent. Just the thought of another debt makes me break out in a cold sweat."
"Could you afford seven or eight yards of material?" Terry inquired. "I could probably reupholster it for you. I did a fairly decent job on the seats in my van."
"Oh, Terry, would you?" Ivy's smile was radiant. "That'd be so great. I love the lines of the chair and I think the structure is sound enough; it's just the fabric that's a mess. You'd really do that for me?"
"Sure. Consider it my housewarming present." He grinned. "After all, we can't have the family's only doctor living in shabby squalor, can we?"
Davis snapped his fingers. "Hey, speaking of housewarming presents ..." He hopped up and left the room. Ben immediately crawled up off the floor to steal his seat.
Ivy's eyes lit up as she glanced around at her cousins. "You guys bought me a present?"
Sam and Terry smirked. Sherry groaned theatrically. "I swear to God, Ivy," she earnestly assured her cousin, "I tried my damndest to talk them out of this."
Jaz grinned like a cat in the creamery and butted her shoulder against Sherry's calves. "C'mon, Sher, don't be such a prude," she said. "You know it's a great present." "Uh-oh," Ivy murmured. Anyone familiar with Sherry knew she was far from prudish. It therefore stood to reason that if whatever this gift was had given her second thoughts ...
"No, really, Ive," Jaz assured her. "You're gonna love it. Trust me." She stared at Ivy with large, guileless eyes. "It's exactly what you've been needing — and I got that straight from the horse's mouth."
"Trust me, she says." Ivy eyed her cousin suspiciously. "Why is it whenever I hear those words, trust is the very last thing I have the urge to do?"
Jaz merely grinned. "Beats me."
Davis returned to the living room and extended a package to Ivy. "Here you go, Doc," he said. "Happy housewarming, from all of us."
She thought for a moment they'd bought her a bowling ball, which would be odd, since she'd only been bowling perhaps three times in her lifetime. But as it turned out, the shape and size were misleading, for her gift was much lighter than it appeared. Sitting cross-legged on the floor, Ivy rested the present between her thighs and simply admired its wrappings for a moment. It was festively done up in irridescent tissue, gathered at the top and secured by a bow with flowing streamers. Glancing up at her cousins's attentive faces, she smiled and then picked the bow apart. She set it aside and unfurled the gathered tissue.
At first her eyes refused to believe what they were seeing. Then a choked laugh escaped her. "Oh ... my ... gawwd."
She removed a round crystal vase from the wrappings. That was where the conventionality of the gift stopped and her cousins' sense of humor took over. They had filled it to the brim with condoms of every conceivable brand, color, and style. Looking up, her eyes caught Jaz's. "Horse's mouth, my ass. When I said I might finally have time for a relationship now, Jasmine, I was thinking more along the lines of one man, not the entire fifth fleet."
She silently cursed the heated color she could feel climbing her throat. She was more amused than embarrassed by her cousins' gift and God knew that after everything she'd seen in med school and on the work lanes at the trauma unit, one would reasonably expect she'd have lost the power to blush by now. But no such luck, dammit — she still turned color at the drop of a hat, a hated legacy passed down by generations of thin-skinned ancestral redheads. And naturally her cousins could be counted upon not to let the fact pass without comment ... not when pointing out each other's inadequacies was such a popular family pastime.
No sooner had the thought crossed her mind when Sam commented on her high color to the group at large. They heckled her mercilessly.
She fanned her hot cheeks and gave them a lopsided smile. "Trust you guys to pass on the toaster oven." She held out the vase. "Party favor, anyone? Please. Help yourselves to a handful"
They were all laughing and talking at the same time when Davis started tapping out a tempo on the hardwood floor. He looked up at Ivy. "I know the real reason you picked this apartment," he said. "And it wasn't just for its good looks, was it? You rented it for the acoustics." He began to sing an old fifties Motown tune and one by one everyone except Ben joined in, immediately falling into their accustomed harmonies.
Ben was content to lounge back on the couch and watch them with wry amusement as their voices soared in the high-ceilinged, hardwood-floored room. Damn, this is a strange family I've married into, he decided without regret. Then he smiled to himself as he listened. Actually, this was fairly par for the course whenever they got together and he shook his head in rueful admiration, knowing they were just getting warmed up. Once they broke out the harmonies, it was hard stopping them. Sherry told him they'd been singing together, mostly a cappella, for as long as she could remember and he had to admit they were damn good at it. It was entertaining — that was guaranteed, but it sure as hell could be disconcerting to have a roomful of people just spontaneously burst into song around you.
Singing? Now they were singing? That did it. Vincent D'Ambruzzi tossed back his tangled bedcovers and stormed to his feet.
For the past two hours he'd been growing progressively tenser as he'd listened to the thumps and thuds emanating from the apartment next door. More annoying still had been the loud bursts of raucous laughter echoing both out in the hallway and through the adjoining apartment walls. He'd put up with it, holding onto his temper, but enough was enough. Just when he'd thought they were finally beginning to settle down, they'd managed to come up with something to push him right past the threshold of his tolerance. He'd had less than four stinkin' hours of sleep this morning and was in no mood for this shit.
Pulling on the first thing his hand encountered, a pair of skimpy red nylon running shorts, Vincent winced as he bent over to tug them up his long legs. There was a pressure building behind his eyes, which he knew from experience was the precursor to a royal pounder of a headache. Sleep would make it go away, but sleep seemed to be the one remedy the rowdy crew next door was determined to deny him.
Well, he'd see about that.
It wasn't until he'd already pounded with irrevocable, thunderous hostility on the neighbor's door that he was struck with second thoughts. Oh, shit, why hadn't he simply pulled the pillow over his ears? It probably wasn't even all that early — he hadn't thought to consult a clock. And the singing wasn't actually all that loud; it had merely been the final straw to the increasingly annoying pandemonium preceding it, a racket which had left him twisting and turning in a futile search for a few hours of undisturbed rest. Vincent rammed his long fingers through his hair and started to turn away. But it was too late; the door behind him opened.
He sucked in a deep breath and turned back, his fingers still snarled in the thick heir above his nape, his elbow jutting ceilingward.
Ivy felt herself gaping and had to make a conscious effort to close her mouth. When the pounding on the door had commenced, she had automatically surged to her feet to answer its commanding summons. She had not thought to visualize the caller in advance of opening the door, and as she stared at the man on her doorstep she dazedly imagined that was probably just as well. For even if the idea had occurred to her, her imagination certainly never could have conjured up anything remotely resembling this hostile, nearly naked man.
He was taller than she by three or four inches, something of a rarity in itself as she was just shy of six feet tall and thus tended to stand eyeball to eyeball with the majority of the men she met. And he was dark — very dark. It was his coloring, she thought, that most arrested her attention — she was momentarily mesmerized by the sleek tangle of black hair in his armpit; the inky thickness of the hair on his head; his thick black brows. His eyes, too, were black and he had ebony eyelashes so dense they tangled in the outer corners. His jaw had what appeared to be a permanent dark shadow beneath the skin, his arms were feathered with black hair from elbows to wrists, and there was a thick cloud of hair on his chest that started at his collarbones and ended at the bottom of his pectorals, tapering to a silky stripe that bisected his abdomen and swirled around his navel before it disappeared beneath the waistband of those tiny red shorts.
She gave herself a mental shake. Good grief, Ivy, it's summertime — deep tans aren't exactly unheard of this time of year. But she instinctively felt this man's coloring wasn't a product of hours spent at the beach. It might be slightly enhanced at the moment by the summer sun, but she'd lay odds his natural skin tones were a deep olive. There was a rather Mediterranean look about him overall — a large, Roman nose, which was curiously flattened at the bridge, angular cheekbones, a full mouth.
He possessed one of those bodies that probably looked on the skinny side when it was clothed ... but unclothed? There was certainly nothing weak or soft looking about it now. The little red shorts didn't disguise a whole hell of a lot and in the few seconds that she stood there, dumbstruck, simply staring at him, Ivy got an eyeful of the flat, ridged stomach, the powerfully developed chest and long thighs, of the solid mass of calf and bicep, the wide shoulders. Every blessed inch of it looked as hard as aged madrona.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Obsessed"
Copyright © 1993 Susan Andersen.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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