Page 14

As he walked, though, he couldn't get a picture in his mind's eye of the dead agent.

Instead, he saw the girl. The "flesh and blood," as Huey would have said. There was something about her eyes, something about the feel of her hand when they had touched, that haunted him.

She was extraordinary to look at, but the world was full of pretty people.

There was something different about her, though. Even the fear that had touched her eyes had not been fear of the rowdy crowd or of him.

She had been afraid of something else.

Of something she was seeing…

He took his time, walking around a bit rather than taking a straight track back. Some areas were dark and deserted, others remained alive and busy. At Harrah's, gamblers played all night, and lots of establishments remained open until the wee hours.

There were a few old sots and young kids sleeping on the streets.

There was one guy who looked as if he was weighing the idea of an attack when Brent walked by him on a dark corner.

Something stopped him, and he looked away when Brent stared back at him.

Brent reached his B&B without incident and decided sleep would be in order, since he meant to be at the police station early.

Lying in bed, though, he remained awake. And he wondered about the girl, then knew, with certainty, that he would see her again.

Andy's laughter sounded softly again.

Nikki thought she herself was dying. She was choking… frozen with absolute terror. The lights were on. This was no trick of night or the moon. Andy was there.

Nikki couldn't breathe.

Andy was there. She'd drawn the dressing-table chair over by the bed and was watching television, laughing softly at the old jokes.

The words that rushed through Nikki's head did nothing to dispel the illusion.

Andy was dead. Dead and buried.

Yet she was there. Andrea Ciello, dressed in her funerary finest, turned to see Nikki gasping, staring at her, frozen to the core.

"I always loved the old Beaver reruns," Andy murmured. "Hey… it's just me. And thanks… this is the exact outfit I would have chosen. Thank God you didn't choose a silly frilly dress… something I'd never really wear." She sounded wistful suddenly. "It was a lovely service, wasn't it? A real New Orleans funeral. Thanks, Nikki. I had no one, and you were there for me."

That did it. Andy, speaking as if she were really there, casually, throwing in a thank-you, just as she would have done.

The scream tore from Nikki's throat at last.

She was vaguely aware of a thumping sound. As if Julian had fallen out of bed.

"Nikki," Andy protested reproachfully, hearing the thud, too.

Nikki knew she was gasping again, staring.

Then Julian burst into the room.

And Andy evaporated as if she had never been there.

"What the hell… ?" Julian demanded. He was in a pair of too-short sweatpants he'd borrowed from Nikki, hair disarrayed, eyes bleary. He was blinking madly and rubbing his left elbow.

"She… she was here!" Nikki got out. "Julian, didn't you see her?"

He sighed, looking down. "No, Nikki, I didn't see anyone." He shook his head, looking at her again, fighting a wave of anger, she thought. "Nikki, there's no one here. The doors are locked tight."

"She was here," Nikki whispered.

"Um. Great. Well, she's gone now. And you really need to see that doctor."

Nikki let out a long sigh from between clenched teeth. "All right, Julian. But after we talk to the police."

Julian walked out. Goose bumps formed on Nikki's arms. She swallowed, afraid again. But a minute later Julian was back, a pillow and comforter in his arms.

"Julian… " she murmured miserably.

"Go to sleep," he said.

"You take the bed, I'll take the floor."

But Julian was already lying down. "Just go to sleep," he repeated.

Easier said than done…

Yet sometime before morning came, she drifted off.

And when she dreamed, it was not about Andrea, or the strange man she had seen before Andy's death and again that night.

She dreamed of the man who had come to their rescue. He was across a crowded street, staring at her.

His lips weren't moving. He was just staring at her. High cheekbones, dark hair, rugged set to his chin. Green eyes locked on her.

And she could hear what he was thinking.

I can help you.

His words made her more afraid.

No one can help me. It's all in my mind.

He was so improbably good looking, the mixture of cultures so evident in his striking features.

He smiled…

And turned away.

When she awoke in the morning, Nikki tripped over Julian.

As he groaned, she bent over and kissed him on the forehead, and promised him the best cup of coffee he'd ever had.

She didn't remember the dream, and she didn't wake afraid. She was determined to take decisive action and head straight for the police station.

It was what she didn't know that was haunting her, she was suddenly certain.

* * *

Chapter 7

"Television isn't helping us in the least," Owen Massey complained, setting a cup of coffee in front of Brent.

It was evident already that Massey wasn't the kind of cop to place much store in psychics, so Brent had been very careful about anything he said. With Adam's connections, his introduction to the police department had been a no-nonsense one, and he didn't want to do anything to jeopardize his standing.

Massey might suspect that he was a psychic, but they had hit it off well when Brent asked questions about hard evidence, then commented that it was a seasoned policeman's hunches that kicked in on the streets.

Taking his seat behind his desk, Massey shook his head again. "I mean, some of those forensics shows. In one night, one crew handles everything and comes up with the killer. Don't get me wrong, I'm not knocking forensics. Crimes have certainly been solved because of a hair or a fiber, and DNA typing is the greatest gift since fingerprints. But most of the time, even if you're lucky enough to find a hair or a fiber, it's like looking through a haystack to find what the hell to compare the damn thing to. Okay, domestic crimes… you can usually trace those suckers. Drugs? You're looking for another thug. But then you have the random crime, the woman who looks like the girl who rejected the perp back in high school, and happens to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Serial killers. Strangers killing strangers. That's when it gets hard."

Brent nodded sympathetically, wondering just what Massey's frustrated speech had to do with the matter at hand. "Tom Garfield was onto something, and we know that he didn't inject himself with heroin."

Massey, who had been frowning and distracted, focused on Brent suddenly, and his large ruddy face flushed darker. "Sorry… I've got another case that's equally frustrating. Beautiful young woman, same kind of death. Except she had been a junkie, and we'll probably discover she just fell back to her old ways. Her friends are insisting she was murdered, though."

Brent arched a brow. "Heroin?"


"Her friends claim she was clean?"

"Yeah, but you know, friends see what they want to."

Brent leaned forward. "But the deaths were similar otherwise?"

"Like I said, the girl had a past history of drugs. She nearly got herself kicked out of Tulane because of her habit."

Brent decided he had to be careful. He didn't want to irritate his contact. Still, since the deaths were so alike, it seemed evident to him that they should be investigated for a connection.

Of course, the dead girl hadn't been a government agent.

"Where did she die?"

"Her own apartment."

"Anybody see anything or anyone unusual?"


"Crime scene investigators went over the apartment and found nothing?"

"You know, we're not idiots here."

"I wasn't suggesting you were. It's just that… since she'd been a junkie, I was wondering if the death was being investigated with the same rigor as a case that might not be self-induced."

"We searched the apartment. Not so much as the hint of an unknown fiber or hair," Massey said coldly. "Nail scrapings—nothing. The ME went over the body with a fine-tooth comb. Again, nothing."

"Sorry," Brent said.

Massey shrugged. "Well, I guess I went off on you first, venting my frustration," he said. He leaned toward Brent across the desk, lowering his voice as if he was suddenly worried about being heard by others in the busy precinct office. "Actually, right now a couple of the dead girl's friends are here, going through mug shots, looking. The kids had been drinking together the night before. I asked them about anyone suspicious lurking around. Of course, half the people in New Orleans look suspicious. Anyway, it's just one of those times when being a cop kind of makes you ill, you know? When you see the haunted eyes of those left behind."

Massey's gaze slid past Brent, indicating a small conference room.

Brent knew before he turned to look that he was going to see the couple from the night before.

The guy, tall, dark and good looking, was standing protectively by her side. He'd been protective the night before, too.

She was seated. He couldn't see her eyes, but he could remember the color. Not blue. Not green. A true aqua, like the waters of a Caribbean reef. Her hair was long, of a golden, honeyed color. And she had a great face. Classic bone structure. Perfect nose, not too small, straight, and just right for the width of her cheekbones.

Great mouth. Full, sensual lips set against a firm chin. He couldn't see any of that at the moment. It was simply ingrained in his memory.

She was seated at the table, a massive book in front of her. An officer at her side was slowly turning pages.

She shook her head, looking up at the assisting officer.

Haunted eyes, Massey had said.

Good description. Her friend was dead, but there was more than just fear, anger and frustration in her gaze. There was something like desperation. A feeling she undoubtedly loathed, since it was apparent that she'd been blessed with determination and no lack of courage.