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Authors: Karen Robards

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The Last Victim

BOOK: The Last Victim
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The Last Victim
Karen Robards
Ballantine Books (2012)
Rating: ***
Tags: Romance, Suspense, Fiction

Electrifying suspense, cutting-edge psychological insight, and an unforgettably sensuous love story—these are the trademarks of Karen Robards’s sizzling novels. Now the
New York Times
bestselling author launches a red-hot new paranormal romantic thriller series featuring the fascinating Dr. Charlotte Stone, a serial killer expert whose extraordinary powers lead her from ecstasy to terror.
THE LAST VICTIM
Dr. Charlotte Stone sees what others do not.
A sought-after expert in criminal pathology, Charlie regularly sits face-to-face with madmen. Obsessed with learning what makes human monsters commit terrible crimes, Charlie desires little else from life—no doubt because when she was sixteen, she herself survived a serial killer’s bloodbath: A man butchered the family of Charlie’s best friend, Holly, then left the girl’s body on a seaside boardwalk one week later.
Because of the information Charlie gave police, the Boardwalk Killer went underground. She kept to herself her eerie postmortem visions of Holly and her mother. And even years later, knowing her contact with ghosts might undermine her credibility as a psychological expert, Charlie tells no one about the visits she gets from the spirit world.
Now all-too-handsome FBI agent Tony Bartoli is telling Charlie that a teenage girl is missing, her family slaughtered. Bartoli suspects that after fifteen years, the Boardwalk Killer—or a sick copycat with his M.O.—is back. Time is running short for an innocent, kidnapped girl, and Bartoli pleads for Charlie’s help.
This is the one case Charlie shouldn’t go near. But she also knows that she may be the one person in the world who can stop this vicious killer. For Charlie—whose good looks disguise a world of hurt, vulnerability, and potent psychic gifts—a frantic hunt for a madman soon becomes a complex test of cunning, passions, and secrets. Aiding Dr. Stone on her quest to catch a madman is a ghostly presence with bad intentions: the fiery spirit of seductive bad boy Michael Garland who refuses to be ignored, though in his cat and mouse game they may both lose their hearts.
Dr. Charlotte Stone sees what others do not. And she sees the Boardwalk Killer coming for her.

From the Hardcover edition.

Review

Praise for Karen Robards
 
“Draw a line between two extremely popular genres, mysteries and romance novels, and in the middle you will find the bestselling Robards. She merges the two worlds like no one else, deftly interlacing plot and passion.”—Albany
Times Union
 
“Robards has a true flair for characterization and excels at adding large doses of humor to the spicy mix.”—
RT Book Reviews
“One of the most popular voices in women’s fiction.”
—Newsweek
 
“Robards is one terrific storyteller.”—
Chicago Tribune

About the Author

Karen Robards
is the
New York Times
and
USA Today
bestselling author of forty books and one novella. The mother of three boys, she lives in her hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.

The Last Victim
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2012 by Karen Robards

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Ballantine Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

BALLANTINE and colophon are registered
trademarks of Random House, Inc.

eISBN: 978-0-345-53544-3

www.ballantinebooks.com

Cover design : Alan Dingman
Cover photograph: © Jupiterimages

v3.1

Contents

Cover

Title Page

Copyright

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-One

Chapter Thirty-Two

Chapter Thirty-Three

Chapter Thirty-Four

Chapter Thirty-Five

Chapter Thirty-Six

Dedication

Acknowledgments

Other Books by This Author

About the Author

CHAPTER ONE

If Charlie Stone hadn’t drunk the Kool-Aid, she would have died.

But in the random way the world sometimes works, the seventeen-year-old did drink several big tumblers full of Goofy Grape generously mixed with vodka, courtesy of her new best friend Holly Palmer. As a result, she just happened to be in the utilitarian bathroom off the Palmers’ basement rec room, hugging the porcelain throne when the first scream penetrated her consciousness.

Even muffled by floors and walls and who knew what else, it was loud and shrill and urgent enough to penetrate the haze of misery she was lost in.

“Holly?” Charlie called, lifting her head, which felt like it weighed a ton and pounded unmercifully.

No answer.

Okay, her voice was weak. Probably Holly hadn’t heard her. Probably the scream was nothing, Holly’s little brothers fighting or something. Seeing that it was around two a.m., though, shouldn’t the eleven- and thirteen-year-olds have been asleep? Charlie had no idea: she knew nothing about tweenie boys. God, she should have followed her instinct and just said no to the booze. But as the new girl in Hampton High School’s senior class, Charlie hadn’t felt like she was in a
position to refuse. From the first day of school, when they’d found out they were sharing a locker, sweet, popular Holly had taken Charlie under her wing, introduced her around. For that, Charlie was grateful. The veteran of seven high schools in just over three years, Charlie knew from bitter experience that there were a lot more mean girls out there than nice ones.

A late August Friday night in this small North Carolina beach town meant the movies. Four of them had gone together. The other two had moms who were reliable about picking their daughters up after. When Charlie’s mom hadn’t shown (typical), Holly had invited her to spend the night. They’d wound up sneaking out to meet Holly’s boyfriend, Garrett—a total hottie, who had to work till midnight, which was past Holly’s curfew—and go for a ride in his car. Since he’d had a friend with him—James, not quite as hot as Garrett, but
still—
it had actually worked out pretty well, except for the whole toxic Kool-Aid thing.

They’d driven to the shore, plopped down in the sand, and shared the concoction Garrett had mixed for them while they talked and watched the waves.

The good news was, Charlie might actually have gotten a bead on landing her own boyfriend. The bad news was, as soon as Garrett had dropped them off and they’d crept back down to the basement where supposedly they’d been watching TV all along, Charlie had had to rush straight to the bathroom. She’d been in there for what felt like forever, being sick as a parrot.

She’d be lucky if Holly ever invited her over again.

The second scream definitely did not come from one of the boys. High-pitched and shattering, it smashed through the ordinary sounds of the babbling TV and humming air-conditioning and thumping dryer in the next room like an axe through Jell-O. The fear in it was enough to make the hair stand up on the back of Charlie’s neck. Until it abruptly cut off, she forgot to breathe. The ensuing silence pulsated with … something. Tension, maybe. An electric kind of heaviness. Shooting to her feet, she swiped her long brown hair back from her face with one hand and headed for the door. Knees weak, battling a disorienting attack of the woozies along with the worst taste ever in her mouth, she grabbed the cold-from-the-air-conditioning brass knob.

“Teach you to ignore me …” The words were followed by the sharp sound of a blow. It was a man’s voice, low and deep. Mr. Palmer? Had he found out they’d snuck out?

Charlie froze, her hand still on the knob. She could see herself in the mirror over the sink. Average height, maybe a little too plump. Her face, cute, round, currently rosy from her mostly futile attempts to tan, had gone utterly white. Her blue eyes were the approximate size and shape of golf balls. The yellow T-shirt she wore with jeans looked neon bright in the drab space. Tonight there would be no blending in to the background for her. Earlier, standing out was what she had wanted. Her yet-to-be-proven theory was that, unlike birds, brilliant plumage on girls helped to attract boys. Whatever, James had seemed to like her.

“Don’t go anywhere,” the man said. At the ugly note in his voice, Charlie let go of the knob and took a step back. Pulse pounding, she stared at the raw wood panel. The tiny bathroom with its plain white toilet and sink and unpainted concrete block walls seemed to shrink as she stood there. There was no window, no way out except through that door.

Her heart thudded so hard she could feel it knocking in her chest.

A moment later the unmistakable creak of the door to the rec room told her it was being opened. She didn’t hear it shut, but then she didn’t hear anything after that. No footsteps, no voices. What was happening? Was he gone? Where was Holly?

All Charlie knew for sure was that she wasn’t about to just open that door.

Instead she dropped to her knees and tried looking beneath it, through the crack between door and floor.

The overhead light was still on, just like it was when she’d run for the bathroom. She could see the rug, a tan kind of Aztec print laid down over the concrete. She could see two legs of the coffee table, and a sliver of the tan leather couch. And Holly’s feet. Yes, definitely Holly’s feet, bare like her own. Slim and tanned, toenails painted bubblegum pink, poking out from beneath the fashionably raggedy hems of her jeans.

Judging from their position, Holly was lying on her side on the floor between the coffee table and the couch.

Charlie wet her lips. Something bad had happened. Something was really wrong.

Even as Charlie watched, Holly’s toes curled, straightened, curled again. Then Charlie heard a moan, low and drawn out. Her stomach bunched into a big knot. The moan came from Holly, no mistake about that. Whatever had gone down, Holly was hurt. She needed help. Had her dad beaten her up?

Mr. Palmer—Ben, all Holly’s friends called him, although Charlie, who’d only met him twice, hadn’t quite gotten there yet—was a lawyer. He seemed nice, not like the type who’d hit his daughter, but in Charlie’s experience of men, you just never knew.

BOOK: The Last Victim
4.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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