Kill For Me

Excerpt

from Chapter One

Dutton, Georgia, Friday, February 2, 3:05 p.m.

Susannah Vartanian stared at the passenger side mirror as the house in which she'd grown up grew smaller as each second passed. I have to get out of here. As long as she remained here, at this house, in this town, she was no longer the woman she'd become. She was no longer a successful New York City assistant district attorney who commanded respect. As long as she was here, she was a child, alone and afraid, hiding in a closet. A victim. Susannah was damn tired of being a victim.

“Are you all right?” The question came from the man behind the wheel. Special Agent Luke Papadopoulos. Her brother's partner and best friend. Luke had driven her here an hour before and then the growing dread in the pit of her gut had made her wish he'd slow down. Now that it was over, she wished he'd drive faster.

Get me away from here. Please. “I'm fine.” She didn't need to look at Papadopoulos to know he watched her. She'd felt the weight of his gaze from the moment they'd met the week before. She'd been standing next to her brother at their parents' funeral and Luke had come to pay his respects. He watched her then. He watched her now.

But Susannah's gaze was fixed on the passenger side mirror. She wanted to look away from the rapidly shrinking house of her youth, but her eyes would not obey. The lone figure standing in the front yard compelled her to keep watching. Even from a distance she could feel the sadness that weighed down his broad shoulders.

Her brother Daniel was a big man, like their father had been. The women in their family were small, but the men were hulking and large. Susannah swallowed back the panic that had lurked at the base of her throat for the past two weeks. Simon's dead, for real this time. He can't hurt you anymore. But he could, and he would. That he could torment her from beyond the grave was an irony Simon would find hilarious. Her older brother Simon had been one son of a bitch.

Now he was a dead son of a bitch and Susannah hadn't shed a single tear. Her parents were dead as well, because Simon had killed them. Now, only the two of them remained. Just me and Daniel, she thought bitterly. Just one big happy family.

Just her and her oldest brother, Special Agent Daniel J. Vartanian, Georgia Bureau of Investigation. One of the good guys. Daniel had built a career trying to make up for the fact that he was Judge Arthur Vartanian's spawn. Just like I have.

She thought of the devastation in his eyes when she'd walked away, leaving him standing in the front yard of the old house. After thirteen years, Daniel finally knew what he'd done, and more importantly, what he had not.

Now Daniel wanted forgiveness, Susannah thought bitterly. He wanted atonement. After more than ten years of total silence, her brother Daniel wanted a relationship.

Her brother Daniel wanted too damn much. He'd have to live with what he had done, and what he had not. Just like I have.

She knew why he'd left, so long ago. Daniel hated the house almost as much as she did. Almost. She'd managed to avoid the house the week before, when they'd buried their parents. After the funeral Susannah walked away, vowing never to return.

But a phone call from Daniel the day before had brought her back. Here. To Dutton. To this house. To face what she had done, and importantly, what she had not.

An hour ago she'd stood on that front porch for the first time in years. It had taken every ounce of her strength to walk in that door, up those stairs, into her brother Simon's old bedroom. Susannah did not believe in ghosts, but she did believe in evil.

Evil lived in that house, in that bedroom, long after Simon died. Both times.

The evil had settled around her as soon as she'd entered Simon's room, sending panic clawing up her throat along with a scream she kept silenced. She'd drawn on her last reserves, keeping the illusion of serenity and control intact as she'd forced herself into the closet, dreading what she feared lay behind its walls.

Her worst nightmare. Her greatest shame. For thirteen years it had remained hidden in a box in a hideyhole behind Simon's bedroom wall, unbeknownst to anyone. Even me. Especially me. After thirteen years, the box was out of the closet. Ta-da.

Now, the box resided in the trunk of the car belonging to Special Agent Luke Papadopoulos, GBI. Daniel's partner and friend. Papadopoulos was taking the box back to GBI headquarters in Atlanta where it would be entered into evidence. Where CSI techs and detectives and the legal team would sort through the contents. Hundreds of pictures, hideous and obscene and very, very real. They'll see. They'll know.

The car went around a bend and the house disappeared. The spell broken, Susannah eased back against the seat and drew a quiet breath. It was finally over.

No, it was only beginning for Susannah, and nowhere near the end for Daniel and his partner. Daniel and Luke were chasing a killer, a man who'd murdered five Dutton women in the last week. A man who'd turned his murder victims into clues to lead authorities to what was left of a band of rich-boy thugs who'd wreaked their own evil on Dutton's teenaged girls thirteen years before. A man who, for his own reasons, wanted the rich boys' crimes made public. A man who hated the band of rich-boy bastards almost as much as Susannah did. Almost. No one hated them more than Susannah. Unless it was one of their twelve other surviving victims.

Soon they'll know, the other victims. Soon everyone will know, she thought.

Including Daniel's partner and friend. He still watched her, his eyes dark and brooding. She sensed Luke Papadopoulos saw more than she wanted anyone to see.

He'd certainly gotten an eyeful today. Soon, everyone would. Soon … Her stomach pitched and she concentrated on not throwing up. Soon her greatest shame would be the chatter around water coolers and coffee pots all over the country.

She'd overheard enough water cooler chatter to know exactly how it would go. Did you hear? they'd whisper, pretending to look horrified. Did you hear about those rich boys down in Dutton, Georgia, who drugged and raped those girls thirteen years ago? One of them even murdered one of the girls. They took pictures. Can you imagine?

And they'd all shake their heads, imagining it and secretly wishing those pictures would get leaked to the web where they might “accidentally” stumble upon them.

Dutton, another would muse, unwilling to be left out. Isn't that the town where all those women were murdered and left in drainage ditches? Just in the last week?

Yes, another would confirm. It's also that Simon Vartanian's hometown. He was one of the rich kid rapists – he took the pictures thirteen years ago. He's also the one who killed all those people up in Philadelphia. Some detective up in Philly killed him.

Seventeen people dead, including her own parents. Countless lives destroyed. I could have stopped it all, but I didn't. Oh my God. What have I done? She kept her expression cool and her body stationary, but in her mind she rocked like a scared child.

“That was difficult,” Papadopoulos murmured.

His rumble of a voice brought her back and she blinked hard, remembering who she was now. An adult. A respected attorney. One of the good guys. Yeah. Right.

She turned away from him, fixing her gaze once again on the side mirror. Difficult was far too sanitized a word for what she'd just done. “Yes,” she replied. “Difficult.”

“Are you all right?” he asked again.

No, I am not all right, she wanted to snap, but kept her voice as cool. “I'm fine.” And outwardly, she was. Susannah was skilled at maintaining the illusion, as she should be. She was Judge Arthur Vartanian's daughter, after all, and what she hadn't inherited through blood she'd learned by watching her father live a lie every day of their lives.

“You did the right thing, Susannah,” Papadopoulos said quietly.

Yeah, right. Thirteen years too late. “I know.”

“We'll be able to put away three rapists with the evidence you helped us find today.”

There should have been seven men going to prison. Seven. Unfortunately, four of them were already dead, including Simon. I hope you're all burning in hell.

“And thirteen women will be able to face their attackers and get justice,” he added.

There should have been sixteen women facing their attackers, but two had been murdered and the other had taken her own life. No, Susannah, there should have only been one victim. It should have stopped with you.

But she'd said nothing then, and she'd have to live with that for the rest of her life.

“Facing one's attacker is an important part of dealing with an assault,” Susannah said levelly. At least that's what she'd always told the rape victims who were uncertain about testifying in court. In the past she'd believed it. Today she wasn't so sure.

“I guess you've prepared your share of rape victims to testify.” His voice was incredibly gentle, but underneath she heard the tremble of a barely leashed fury. “I imagine it will be more difficult when you're the one in the witness box.”

There was that word again … difficult. It wouldn't be difficult to testify. It would be the most terrifying experience of her life. “I told you and Daniel that I'd stand with the other victims, Agent Papadopoulos,” she said sharply, “and I meant it.”

Copyright © 2009, Karen Rose Books, Inc.