Most Wanted (A Melanie Vargas Mystery)

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9780060723996: Most Wanted (A Melanie Vargas Mystery)

A betrayed wife and dedicated mother suddenly forced to raise her six-month-old daughter alone, Melanie Vargas is also an ambitious, hard-working professional who has had to bite and claw for recognition in the federal prosecutor's office. Then, while strolling with her baby girl on a steamy New York night, Melanie stumbles onto the kind of high-profile case that could make a career: the burning townhouse of a wealthy former prosecutor, its owner's tortured, murdered corpse smoldering within. Melanie Vargas wants this chance -- she needs it -- and she'll do whatever it takes to get it.

But a headline-grabbing opportunity of a lifetime could cost Melanie more than she ever imagined, as it pulls her closer to a dangerous affair with a secretive, enigmatic FBI agent -- and closer still to a sadistic human monster moving expertly through the city's darkest shadows.

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About the Author:

Michele Martinez, a graduate of Harvard University and Stanford Law School, was a federal prosecutor in New York City for eight years. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and two children.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

Melanie Vargas would normally never have dreamed of pushing her baby stroller into the middle of a crime scene. Sure, she was a dedicated prosecutor who believed in locking up the bad guys, but she was also a fiercely protective mommy to her six-month-old daughter. Then again, these were not normal times. Things were out of control in Melanie's life, in a big way. Not to mention that little Maya had a will of her own. You could almost say that Maya engineered the whole thing. Something huge was happening outside their window, and Maya didn't want to miss it any more than Melanie did. That chiquitita had law enforcement in her blood.

They'd been home in their apartment at ten o'clock on a steamy Monday night. Maya was screaming her lungs out, face bright red, as Melanie walked her up and down, danced with her, jiggled her around. Anything and everything to get her to sleep, but nothing was working.

Then, in a split second of silence while Maya drew a breath, Melanie heard the sirens. Not just a few sirens either, but the separate and distinct shrieks of police cruisers, ambulances, and fire trucks. A big response. She'd been a prosecutor long enough to know the difference between those sounds and know what they meant. A ruckus like that in a tranquil, fancy neighborhood like this? Highly unusual -- and serious. Someone else had worse problems than she did tonight.

It took an eternity for Maya to suck that breath all the way in. But it came back out in one loud, piercing wail.

"Maya, listen," Melanie begged, moving frantically toward the window, trying to put a soothing sway in her step. "Do you hear that? Sirens. Sirens, oiga."

She turned Maya around to face the rectangle of window above the humming air conditioner, bouncing her up and down. For a blissful moment, the distraction worked. Maya quieted, her sodden brown eyes focusing on the hazy, shimmering air beyond the glass. Then a new bunch of police cruisers sped down Park Avenue. Their sirens blared, but you couldn't see them at all from this angle. Melanie craned her neck to catch a glimpse of the wide boulevard, over the tops of the low buildings on her side street. Too late. They were gone. Maya swung a pudgy fist toward the window and started to howl again. Frustrated, obviously.

"I know, I know, nena. The view is not what it should be." She pulled Maya close, resting her cheek on her daughter's silky raven hair, so like her own, trying to comfort her with caresses. No good. Maya struggled and fussed to get free.

"You're not ever going to sleep, are you?" Melanie said, looking into her daughter's face. "That's it, baby girl. We're going out."

She turned on her heel decisively and headed down the hall to Maya's room. Yanking the stroller from the closet with one hand, she settled Maya into it and buckled the safety strap. The bunny night-light on the dresser cast a warm glow on Maya's wet cheeks as Melanie pulled lacetrimmed ankle socks onto her tiny feet. The baby's sobs quickly faded to hiccups. No doubt about it, this little girl was happy to be going for a ride.

When they reached the lobby, though, Melanie's doorman had other ideas. Hector was Puerto Rican like her, and the slight lilt of a Spanish accent in his voice always reminded her of her father. The feeling was clearly mutual, since Hector fussed over Melanie like a protective papi who was convinced she couldn't take care of herself.

"Aw, no! Where you think you going? Something nasty happening out there. Sirens and everything."

"Hector, I'm a prosecutor. I can handle a few sirens." She stopped short of telling him that she liked the sirens. They were interesting. They drew her more than they scared her away.

"What about this little one? She don't want to go out!" Hector protested.

Maya leaned forward eagerly on her puffy, diapered bottom, grasping the toy bar strapped to the front of the stroller. She had completely stopped crying.

"Oh, yes, she does! ĄClaro! You should have heard her screaming five minutes ago. I'm going to walk her till she falls asleep."

"By yourself at this hour?"

Melanie shrugged. Hector studied her face.

"When Mr. Hanson coming home, hija? He on business still? 'Cause I ain't seen him around lately."

Steve Hanson was Melanie's husband. And no, he hadn't been around much lately, because Melanie had thrown his cheating butt out. She just hadn't brought herself to tell Hector yet. Or anyone else for that matter. Telling people would make it real, and she didn't want it to be real. The last few weeks were a bad dream she kept hoping she would wake up from.

The telephone at the doorman's station began to buzz.

"Answer your phone, Hector. And don't worry about us. We'll be back in ten minutes with this little girl fast asleep. Promise."

As Melanie exited the air-conditioned lobby, the heat and the racket from the sirens blasted her in the face. She drew a sharp breath and tasted something acrid. August in New York City was always unbearable, but this was different. The haziness smelled like smoke. She hesitated, looking down at Maya. Far from seeming troubled, her daughter gave a huge yawn and snuggled down into the stroller. That settled it. Melanie pointed the stroller south on Madison Avenue and headed in the direction of the flashing lights.

A few blocks ahead, people clustered in front of blue police barricades, rubbernecking wildly. The smoke in the air stung Melanie's eyes, but the crowds told her there was something worth seeing. She stopped momentarily to check Maya. Hah! Fast asleep already, black lashes resting against silken cheeks, a peaceful smile on her shell-pink lips. Melanie stroked her daughter's face. Amazing what an angel this one could be when she was quiet ...

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