He was good. They’d never been able to catch him, so he could play it out the same way again and let someone else take the fall. It was easy to arrange. So easy.
He had to stay calm, confident. He couldn’t let the little things tear down the brick bastions of his own talent. He was good, and this was all a challenge.
He started; his name was being called.
With a smile, he answered.
“You look great tonight.”
Dan McDuff turned. Marcie McDonnagh was standing there, just outside the women’s locker room.
“You look pretty damned good yourself,” he told her.
“Aw, shucks,” she said, and smiled. Her hair was hidden beneath the black-and-gray wig she wore, but the exaggerated female vampire makeup just made her look wickedly, sensually attractive, he thought.
She ran up and hugged him suddenly, then pulled away self-consciously. “We made it, Dan! We both made it. Our pay goes up. Our prestige goes up. Hera and Zeus, here we come.”
He had to smile in return. “I wanted it so badly, I’m still not sure I believe it’s real,” he told her.
“Me, too.” She let out a happy sigh.
“We should celebrate,” he said.
“My cousin and some friends are coming tonight. Maybe we can all go out after the show and celebrate.”
“I’d love to celebrate, but I’ve got an early class tomorrow. I’m going to have to ask you for a rain check.”
Was that the brush-off? he wondered. He wasn’t sure, and he didn’t really care. It wasn’t as if he’d been trying to pick her up. He had just wanted to celebrate their victory.
“Sure,” he said.
Suddenly they both started. Above them, from the main park, a scream had echoed so loudly that it had penetrated to the catacomb of hallways and workrooms below.
Dan laughed. “They’re doing a good job up there,” he said.
Marcie shuddered. “Yeah? Strange, isn’t it? People, tourists, are paying to be scared, but all we have to do is live in the area, walk into a dark parking lot alone, to be afraid.”
“I’m here if you need me,” he told her gravely.
He could have killed her. Grabbed her right then and there, and shaken her.
She’d scared the hell out of him.
There was an unknown SUV in her front yard, a late-model Volvo, nice. Just the type of car for a boy-next-door serial killer to drive, he had tormented himself, his heart in his throat, when he reached her house. He’d heard the dog barking, but she’d never come back to the phone, and now there was a strange car in her driveway.
But Christina was evidently just fine. She opened the door and stared at him, her eyes wide with dismay as the realization of what she had done dawned on her. “Oh, my God, Jed!”
“Yeah, Jed,” he said dryly.
She winced. “I’m sorry.” She swallowed hard, and Killer barked. Jed absently patted the dog to quiet him. “Come in, please. My old friend Genevieve arrived with Thor, her husband, and I forgot all about the phone. Did you ever meet Gen? She came up here with me a few times when we were kids. She grew up in Key West, but we’ve been friends for years. I thought she was so lucky, growing up, actually living in Key West.” She was babbling, and she knew it. She forced herself to stop, then stared at him, looking stricken. “Jed, I am honestly so sorry.”
“It’s okay. There’s only a serial killer running around with a penchant for gorgeous redheads, and then you—a redhead, I might mention—drop the phone and don’t come back to it. No problem.”
She flushed. “Jed…”
He sighed in a combination of resignation and relief. “It’s all right.”
“Come on in. I have people for you to meet.”
He decided that he hadn’t met Genevieve before, because he would certainly have remembered someone so beautiful. She was tall, tanned and attractive, and she and Christie must have made a pretty sight, walking along the water’s edge together. To his surprise, he did know the very tall, very blond man who was Genevieve’s husband. “Thor Thompson!” he said.
“Jed Braden,” Thor returned, grinning.
The others stared at them blankly. “I was in underwater retrieval and recovery for a while,” Jed explained.
“He was a cop,” Thor said to his wife.
“Jed Braden—the author,” the older man said, offering his hand. “Adam Harrison.”
“Uncle Adam,” Christie supplied.
“Uncle Adam?” Jed said dubiously, staring at her. He knew Christina’s family and knew she had no one left but her cousins. He would have known if there was an Uncle Adam.
“My uncle Adam,” Genevieve supplied quickly.
It was a lie. Jed knew it instinctively. But why were they lying?
“You’re right. I am the author, Mr. Harrison,” he said.
“Adam. Just Adam will be fine. And congratulations. You’ve created a couple of real page-turners, including one on the Interstate Killer, if I remember correctly.”
“Yeah. Fictionalized, but…yeah,” Jed said flatly.
“Um…well,” Christina said, glancing at her watch. “It’s a bit early, but how about lunch? Do you guys want to stay here? There’s plenty of room. Why don’t you all bring your things in, and then we can go out and grab a bite? Later tonight a bunch of us are going to go over to the new theme park and see my cousin Dan. He’s the Grim Reader in their Halloween extravaganza.”
She looked anxious, Jed thought. As if she didn’t quite know what was going on herself.
“Lunch sounds wonderful,” Genevieve admitted.
“We don’t want to impose, though,” Adam said.
“You wouldn’t be imposing,” Christina told him.
“I’ll give you a hand. Let me help you get your things,” Jed offered.
They all went outside, Killer jumping up and down happily as he followed. As he was reaching into the back of the SUV, Jed saw Ilona, in her minivan, pull into the drive next door. She waved as she got out of her car.
“Are we still on for tonight?” she called.
“Yes, come meet my friends,” Christina called back.
Ilona walked over and shook hands as she met Genevieve, Thor and Adam.
“We’re going to head out for lunch,” Genevieve said.
“Tony’s down overseeing a new menu at the Mainstay.” She flashed them a smile. “You know where it is, Christina—right down the street from that place where your family hangs out all the time. O’Reilly’s. Why don’t you go there? Tony would be thrilled. He’s added a new line of low-carb, low-fat entrées, really good stuff.”
“Sounds good to me,” she said, and looked at the others for confirmation.
“Why not?” Adam said.
Jed hadn’t exactly been invited to lunch, but he didn’t care. It suddenly seemed important that he go along.
Christina felt nervous all through lunch.
It wasn’t difficult to explain Gen and Thor to Jed. Gen was a very old friend, and Thor was like a Christmas present, since he and Jed knew each other. But Jed was suspicious of Adam, and she knew it. She could see in the way his dark eyes measured the older man that he had strong doubts about the uncle story.
Tony greeted them at the restaurant door, and they were given a great, circular table that made conversation easy. Christina was glad they had listened to Ilona, except that Tony insisted lunch was on the house.
“As long as I get a real evaluation when you’re done,” he told them.
“Of course we’ll be totally honest,” Christina promised. “But you really don’t have to buy us lunch.”
“It’s my pleasure. Hey, how many times have I mooched off your family over the years?” Christina could tell that his feelings would have been hurt if they refused, so she gave in with good grace and they ordered.
“I gather you’re not from Florida,” Jed said to Adam. He was leaning back comfortably, casually, in his chair, but Christina could tell that there was nothing casual about him at all as he studied the older man, waiting for his response.
“Nope. I’m a Virginian, by birth, choice and the grace of God,” Adam said, grinning. He lifted his beer to Jed. “But I do admire your great state, as well. There’s a lot of history here—and some great ghost stories.”
“It’s true,” Jed said. “We’re not far from Ocklawaha, where Ma Barker and her son Fred had their massive shoot-out with the feds back in 1935. The place was shot to pieces, more rounds fired than you could ever imagine, but one chandelier went untouched. The place is supposed to be haunted to this day.”
“My favorite Florida ghost is up in Tallahassee,” Genevieve said. “In Tallahassee Old City Cemetery.”
Christina chimed in then. “I know that place. It’s a beautiful old cemetery, very haunting, with lots of old trees dripping with Spanish moss.”
“And Elizabeth Budd Graham, right?” Jed asked politely.
Tony had come up while they were talking and overheard the last bit of their conversation. “Who’s Elizabeth Budd Graham?” he asked curiously.
“A well-known ghost,” Jed answered, looking intently at Christina.
“She was born sometime around 1886,” Gen said. “She was supposed to be a witch, though not a mean one. In fact, she married, had a child and was apparently well loved, but she died young. Her grave faces west, and there’s a beautiful epitaph on her stone. ‘Doubly dead that she died so young.’ Very sad. You’ve never heard about her or been to the cemetery, Tony?”
“Can’t say I have. What does she do?” Tony asked.
“Nothing bad. People bring flowers to the grave. Supposedly, when you’re there, you can feel a sense of peace and solve problems in your own heart.”
“Florida is just full of ghosts, huh?” Jed said politely.