Page 24

She felt Liam watching her then, and felt the warmth of the small smile that had crept onto his features.

And then, at last, he noted that she was tired.

“We’d better get going. Big day tomorrow,” he said softly.

She nodded. They rose, and she hugged Jaden and Ted, thanking them. “Wow. I appreciate all that you’ve done on this.”

Jaden laughed. “Are you kidding? I love this! Can’t wait to just see more and more of what is in that house!”

Ted said the same.

They parted ways.

Kelsey thought that she might fall asleep as they walked through the darkness toward the house.

She held Liam’s hand, and leaned against him.

They hit the little spit of land leading out to the house.

She felt a sense of cold and fear sweeping over her as they did so, and she wondered why.

Then she realized that the odd and wretched odor was coming to her again.

The scent of death.

She was imagining it. She had it set in her mind. She had to stop, get control of her thoughts and her emotions.

But it wasn’t in her mind.

“Lord, that is strong! There has to be a big animal dead on this property somewhere,” Liam said, pausing.

“You smell it, too?” she asked.

“Big-time. The closer we get to the house, the stronger the smell is,” he said.

He caught her hand, and they walked faster. He paused, breathing in and grimacing.

“It’s not—it’s not in the house, is it?” she asked.

“I don’t think so, but let’s see what’s going on.”

He kept her hand in his as they walked up the steps to the porch. She opened the door, and they stepped in.

He stood in the entry and shook his head.

“It’s outside,” he said.

“What is it?” she asked.

“I’ll go out and look,” he told her.

She didn’t know why, but she didn’t want him out in the night. She had to admit to feeling squeamish. She didn’t want to find the dead thing.

And she didn’t want to be left alone.

“No,” she said, her fingers tightening around his. “No, please, let’s find out what it is in the morning. Please.”

“Kelsey, I can get a flashlight and find out what it is,” he said.

“I know you can. I don’t want you to. Please. It’s not in the house. It’s not in the house at all. Please wait until the morning.”

She looked at him earnestly. He touched her face and smiled after a moment. “All right, we can wait until the morning. It might be a dolphin, I’m afraid. It’s something fairly large, I think. A large mammal.”

“Or small and pathetically bloated,” she suggested. “But, whichever, please, let’s let it wait until the morning.”

“All right.”

He turned and checked the door.

He paused again, looking around the house. For once, she didn’t feel uneasy, or as if someone had been there, or as if she were being watched.

She felt safe. He was there.

But he told her, “I’ll be right up. I’m just going to take a look around and make sure that everything is locked up.”

She laughed. “You won’t be right up. It’s a big house.”

“I can move quickly,” he promised.

She smiled and headed for the stairs. When she was up in her room, she wondered if she might actually carry a bit of the scent on her, having walked through it.

She cast her clothes into the wicker hamper in the bathroom and turned on the shower.

A few minutes later, Liam joined her. For a moment he was silent as he slipped in behind her, caught the soap and rubbed it erotically down the length of her back. “I must say, we are extremely clean people,” he whispered against the back of her ear.

She laughed and turned into him. “I just…I just wanted to make sure we smelled like soap.”

And not death.

She didn’t say the words; neither did he. While the water cascaded down around them, he cradled her head with his hand and kissed her lips slowly. The steam created a breathtaking mist, and the soap was slick against their bodies. They touched their lengths together, and their hands began to roam, and in the wickedly delicious heat that rose between them she forgot about fear and unease and gave way to the pure decadent pleasure of arousal.

They played, stroked and teased in the shower, until at last they turned off the water, groped for towels and headed halfway dry and still steaming into the bedroom. She fell upon him on the clean white sheets, her heart and mind and desire filled with him…

And then she pulled away, rising quickly and racing to the door.

She heard him groan softly as she turned the lock.

“Kelsey, we’re alone, I checked the house!” he whispered to her.

She didn’t answer. She slid back down him, unable to explain.

And then it didn’t matter. Her lips were locked with his, his tongue was thrusting into her mouth, hot and fast, and their hands were all over one another, and then their lips, hot wet kisses that covered and seared against flesh, and he was within her, and the world was gone.

They made love until sheer exhaustion took over. She slept, curled against him, their limbs entangled.

When she awoke, he was gone.

She glanced quickly at the clock, hoping that she hadn’t overslept. Cutter’s funeral was that morning. But, of course, he wouldn’t have let her oversleep.

It was just seven-thirty. The funeral wasn’t until ten.

She groaned, still tired, and dragged herself out of bed, washed her face, brushed her teeth and had one thought.


He would have set it to brew by now, she was certain. He was probably downstairs, maybe just about ready to come wake her up.

Kelsey walked downstairs and into the kitchen. She poured herself a cup of coffee, but still didn’t see Liam.

She looked out front, but didn’t see him, and so she came around back.

He was there. He was standing stiff as a poker, staring into the mangrove brush near the beach. Frowning, she opened the back door and started out.

The scent hit her like a massive wave.

She couldn’t seem to stop herself; she started walking toward him.

“Kelsey, get back to the house,” he said.

But she couldn’t do so.

She was almost to him.

But then she saw what he saw.

She dropped her coffee cup.

She choked back a scream.

Yes, it was definitely a large mammal that was dead.

After all…

Human beings were mammals.


Liam had believed that he could find whatever had died on the property, call animal control and have the poor deceased creature gone long before Kelsey had to see it.

He hadn’t expected the corpse of a man.

It had lain in the marshy ground by a knot of mangroves, their roots stretching out and into the water, soil accruing by those roots and creating marsh. It appeared that crabs had done quite a bit of damage to the fingers; white bone stuck out from darkened hands. The face was likewise unrecognizable, eaten, darkened, showing bits of cheekbone. The nose appeared to be gone.

The birds had taken the eyes.

The man’s clothing was so darkened by the dark sand, soil and marsh water that they appeared to be just black at first sight.

There was no obvious sign of death. The corpse was at an angle, caught in the gnarly arms of the mangrove roots, water washing over it at high tide, receding at low. The corpse was in a severe stage of decomposition, but due to the water, the ground and the creatures that had fed upon it, he knew he wouldn’t be able to tell himself in any way just how long it had been here.

A week? Five days, seven days?

When had they first noticed the smell?

That, too, was hard to determine, because the scent of death had lingered about the house itself after Cutter had died.

“Kelsey, I’ve called for the medical examiner. He’ll be here—soon.”

Before he said the last word, he heard the sound of the police sirens. The medical examiner would be there in minutes, along with a crime-scene unit to gather whatever clues they might.

He wasn’t sure if there was anything at all a crime-scene unit might gather. He tried to remember how much rain there had been in the last few days. It wasn’t summer, so the rain hadn’t been constant, but they’d had a shower here and there. Footprints? Had the corpse been here during the barbecue? Yes, probably. It had been fresh then, though, hidden by the mangroves, roots and brush; he had found it this morning because he had been looking for a dead animal.

“Kelsey, please, go back inside. Maybe you could make a really big pot of coffee. I’m sure that it will be greatly appreciated. I think there are still a lot of paper coffee cups left over from the other day.” He was accustomed to crime scenes. He knew that he was speaking calmly.

He winced at the way she was staring at the corpse.

“Kelsey!” He snapped her name.

She looked at him at last, her blue eyes wide with empathy and horror.

She cleared her throat. “Oh, God, Liam, who is it?”

He shook his head. “Kelsey, I have no idea. I believe that the medical examiner is going to have to give us an ID.”

“But it’s not—”

“I don’t think it can be anyone we know well, Kelsey. We saw everyone last night, remember?”

She nodded, still frozen in place.

The first of the cars he had called were coming down the drive in front of the house.

“Kelsey, coffee? Please. And then go on, get ready. We have Cutter’s funeral today.”

She turned at last and went walking stiffly toward the house. He could see a few of the officers from the crime-scene unit moving toward him along with a few of the uniformed officers, armed with their crime-scene tape.

Behind them came Franklin Valaski, followed by two of his assistants bearing the body bag and stretcher that would shortly be needed.

“That’s my path,” Liam said, pointing to the direct line he had taken from the lawn and the rear of the house through the marsh.