Murder List: A Novel (Buchanan-Renard)

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9780345453839: Murder List: A Novel (Buchanan-Renard)
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There are few authors who can weave nail-biting thrills, edge-of-your-seat drama, and romantic suspense as masterfully as Julie Garwood. Now she ratchets up the tension with Murder List, in which evil is on the hunt– and proves to be methodically organized and chillingly successful.

When Chicago detective Alec Buchanan is offered a prime position with the FBI, it is the perfect opportunity to leave the Windy City and follow in his brothers’ footsteps to the top echelons of law enforcement. But first he must complete one last assignment (and one that he is not too happy about): acting as a glorified bodyguard to hotel heiress Regan Hamilton Madison. The gorgeous exec has become entangled in some potentially deadly business. Someone has e-mailed her a graphic crime-scene photo–and the victim is no stranger.

Regan suspects that the trouble started when she agreed to help a journalist friend expose a shady self-help guru who preys on lonely, vulnerable women. In fact, the smooth-as-an-oil-slick Dr. Lawrence Shields may be responsible for the death of one of his devotees, which was ruled a suicide. Hoping to find some damning evidence, Regan attends a Shields seminar.

At the gathering, the doctor persuades his guests to partake in an innocent little “cleansing” exercise. He asks them to make a list of the people who have hurt or deceived them over the years, posing the question: Would your world be a better place if these people ceased to exist? Treating the exercise as a game, Regan plays along. After ten minutes, Shields instructs the participants to bring their sheets of paper to the fireplace and throw them into the flames. But Regan misses this part of the program when she exits the room to take a call–and barely escapes a menacing individual in the parking lot.

The experience is all but forgotten–until the first person on Regan’s list turns up dead. Shock turns to horror when other bodies from the list start to surface, as a harrowing tango of desire and death is set into motion. Now brutal murders seem to stalk her every move–and a growing attraction to Alec may compromise her safety, while stirring up tender emotions she thought she could no longer feel. Yet as the danger intensifies and a serial killer circles ever closer, Regan must discover who has turned her private revenge fantasies into grisly reality.
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About the Author:

JULIE GARWOOD is the author of many New York Times bestsellers, including Killjoy, Mercy, Heartbreaker, Ransom, and Come the Spring. There are more than thirty-two million copies of her books in print.
From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One THE DEMON WANTED OUT.

The man wasn’t surprised or alarmed. The beast always began to stir at the end of the day when his mind wasn’t consumed with his job, and his body so desperately needed to relax.

For a long time, nearly a full year, the demon had hidden from him, and he hadn’t known it was there. And so he’d naively believed that he was having panic attacks, or spells, as he liked to think of them, because that somehow made them less threatening. They started with a yearning deep in his belly. It wasn’t altogether unpleasant. He likened the sensation to wrapping his arms around a hot stone to warm his freezing body, but as the day progressed, the stone began to get hotter and hotter, until it radiated unbearable heat. Anxiety would come over him then, horrific anxiety that would make his skin crawl and his lungs burn with the need to scream and scream and scream, and in desperation he would think about taking one of his special pills the doctor had prescribed, but he never did take anything, not even an aspirin, for fear the medication would weaken him.

He believed he was a good man. He paid his taxes, went to church on Sundays, and held down a full-time job. It was a stressful, had-to-stay-on-his-toes kind of job, requiring his full concentration, and there wasn’t time to think or worry about the heavy burden waiting for him at home. He didn’t mind the long hours. In fact, there were times he was grateful for them. He never ran from his responsibilities in his professional or his personal life. He took care of his invalid wife, Nina. At her insistence they had moved to Chicago for a new start after the accident. He’d found employment within two weeks of his arrival and had felt that was a good omen. It was a hectic but joyful time. He and Nina decided to use a small portion of the settlement money to purchase a spacious story-and-a-half house on the outskirts of the city, and once they were unpacked, he spent the summer evenings putting in ramps and modifying the first floor so that Nina wouldn’t have any trouble getting around in her new state-of-the-art, featherweight wheelchair. Nina’s legs had been mangled in the accident, and she would, of course, never walk again. He accepted what fate had dealt them and moved forward. He was relieved when his wife slowly regained her strength and learned to do for herself during the day.

When he was home, he insisted on pampering her. He prepared their dinner every night and did the dishes, then spent the rest of the evening with her watching their favorite television shows.

They’d been married ten years, and in all that time their love hadn’t diminished. If anything, the terrible accident had removed any possibility of their falling into complacency or taking each other for granted. And no wonder. His sweet, gentle Nina had died on that operating table, and then, miracle of miracles, had come back to him. The surgeons had worked through the night to save her. When he heard the news that she would recover, he got down on his knees in the hospital chapel and vowed to spend the rest of his life making her happy.

He lived a rich, full life . . . with one little exception.

Awareness of the demon hadn’t been gradual. No, enlightenment had come all at once.

It was the middle of the night. He hadn’t been able to sleep, and rather than toss and turn and possibly wake Nina, he went to the kitchen on the opposite end of the house and paced about. He thought a glass of warm milk might help calm his jitters and make him sleepy, but it really didn’t do much good. He was putting the empty glass in the sink when it slipped out of his hand and shattered in the basin. The sound seemed to reverberate throughout the house. He rushed to the bedroom door and stood outside, waiting and listening. The noise hadn’t awakened his wife, and he felt a moment of relief as he padded back to the kitchen.

His anxiety was building. Was he losing his mind? No, no. He was having one of his spells. That was all. And this one wasn’t so terrible. He could handle it.

The newspaper was on the counter where he’d left it. He picked it up and carried it to the table. He decided he would read every single page, or until he was so sleepy he couldn’t keep his eyes open.

He started with the sports section, read every word, and then moved on to the metropolitan news. He scanned an article about the dedication of a new park and jogging path, spread the paper wide and immediately saw the photo of a beautiful young woman standing in front of a group of men. She was posed with scissors ready to cut a ribbon draped from one stake to another across the path. And she was smiling at him.

He couldn’t take his eyes off her.

He was reading the names under the photo when it happened. He suddenly felt a crushing tightness, and he couldn’t catch his breath. A jolt very much like lightning raced through his heart causing excruciating pain. Was he having a heart attack, or was it another panic attack?

Try to calm down, he told himself. Just calm down. Take deep breaths.

The anxiety was growing even stronger, and with it came the horrific yet familiar terror. Then his skin began to burn and itch, and he frantically scratched his arms and legs as he jumped up and paced around the kitchen island. What was happening to him?

He realized he was running and forced himself to stop. Looking down, he saw the long, jagged scratches. There were bloody streaks on his arms and legs, some cuts so deep, blood dripped on the floor. He was close to exploding. He tore at his hair and whimpered, but the terror was taunting him now. Then, like a blinding light, the epiphany came. He suddenly realized he no longer had control over his own body. He couldn’t even make himself breathe.

With startling clarity he saw and understood. Someone else was breathing for him.

He awakened the following morning curled up in the fetal position on the kitchen floor. Had he fainted? He thought maybe he had. He staggered to his feet and braced his hands on the island to steady himself. Closing his eyes, he took several deep breaths and slowly straightened. He spotted the scissors on top of the folded newspaper. Had he placed them there? He couldn’t remember. He put the scissors back in the drawer where they belonged and picked up the newspaper to throw it into the recycle bin in the garage. He saw the clipping from the newspaper then. Both the article and the photo of the smiling woman were there in the center of his table, waiting for him. He knew who had placed them there. And he knew why.

The demon wanted her.

He buried his face in his hands and wept.

He knew that he must find another way to placate the beast. Physical activity seemed to help. He went to the gym and began to work out like a man obsessed. One of his favorite routines was to put on boxing gloves and pound the bag as hard as he could for as long as he could. He would lose track of time and stop only when he couldn’t raise his arms without suffering unbearable pain.

For days he’d kept his body in the state of perpetual exhaustion. Then, even that wasn’t enough.

Time was running out. The demon was consuming him. Ironically, it was his wife who gave him the idea. One evening, while she kept him company as he did the dishes, she suggested that he should have a night out. A night, she insisted, when he could enjoy himself and have some fun with his friends.

He put up quite an argument. There were already too many nights when he had to be away from her because of pressing commitments at work. And what about all the time he left to go running or to work out at the gym? Surely that was enough alone time.

She was more stubborn than he was and wouldn’t stop cajoling. He finally agreed, only to make her happy.

And so, tonight would be his first night out. He could already feel the adrenaline pumping. He was as nervous and excited as he had been when he had gone on his first date.

Before leaving home, he told Nina he would be heading into the city after work to meet some friends at Sully’s, a popular bar and grill, but she wasn’t to worry; if he had more than one drink, he wouldn’t drive home. He’d take a cab.

All of it was a lie.

No, he wasn’t going to the city to relax. He was going there to hunt.

Chapter Two REGAN MADISON HAD SPENT THREE MISERABLE DAYS AND NIGHTS surrounded by sleazebags. They seemed to be everywhere—in the airports, at the hotel, and on the streets of Rome as well. A sleazebag, as she defined him, was a lecherous but rich old man with a mistress less than half his age hanging on his arm. Regan had never really paid any attention to such couples be- fore her stepfather, Emerson, married Cindy, his child bride. Regan understood the appeal. Cindy had the body of a strip- per. She also had the IQ of plywood. And that made her perfect for him.

Fortunately for Regan, the deliriously happy and definitely dysfunctional couple stayed on in Rome while she flew home to Chicago. Exhausted from her long flight, she went to bed early and slept a full eight hours thinking that tomorrow would be a better day.

She was wrong about that.

She awakened at six o’clock the following morning feeling as though a thousand rubber bands were wrapped around her left knee, cutting off her circulation. She had banged it on her dresser the night before and hadn’t taken the time to ice it. The pain was nearly unbearable. Throwing her covers back, she sat up and rubbed her knee until the throbbing subsided.

Her bad knee was the result of an injury in a charity baseball game. She had been playing first base, doing a creditable job too, until she pivoted the wrong way and tore her meniscal cartilage. The orthopedic surgeon she’d consulted advised surgery and assured her she’d be back in action in just a few days, but Regan kept putting the procedure off.

She swung her feet off the bed and leaned forward to stand, cautiously putting her weight on the sore knee. Then, as if she weren’t miserable enough, she started sneezing, and her eyes began to water.

Regan had a love/hate relationship with her hometown. She loved the galleries and the museums, thought the shopping was every bit as wonderful as it was in New York—an opinion her two best friends, Sophie and Cordelia, vehemently disagreed with—and she believed that at least eighty percent of the inhabitants were good, decent, law-abiding citizens. Most smiled when she passed them on the street; some even said hello. Like the majority of Midwesterners, they were friendly and polite, but not intrusive. They were hardy souls, even though they loved to complain about the weather, especially in the winter months when the wind really did feel like knives slicing through your back or chest, depend- ing on whether you were walking away from Lake Michigan or toward it.

For Regan, however, spring was a real nuisance. She suffered from allergies, and each spring, while ragweed and mold flourished, she turned into a walking pharmacy. Yet, she refused to let it slow her down. On the days when the air was heavy or the pol- len count was sky high, she stuffed packets of tissues, aspirin, antihistamines, decongestants, and eyedrops into her purse and kept on going.

She had a full day scheduled and knew she should get cracking, but all she wanted to do was crawl under the soft down comforter in her soft warm bed. It was so good to be home.

Home for Regan was a suite at The Hamilton, one of the five-star hotels owned and operated by her family. It was located in the fashionable Water Tower district of Chicago and boasted a reputation for elegance, sophistication, and comfort. For the time being, she was satisfied with her living arrangements. She had everything she needed at the hotel. The corporate offices were there, and so her work was conveniently an elevator ride away. Besides, she had known most of the staff her entire life and thought of them as family.

As much as she wanted to go back to bed, she didn’t give in to the urge. Shoving her hair out of her eyes, she staggered into the bathroom, washed her face and brushed her teeth, then put on her workout clothes, clipped her hair in a ponytail, and took the elevator up to the eighteenth floor to do two miles on the new, indoor track. She wasn’t about to let a little bout of hay fever or any aches and pains in her knee set her back. Two miles every day, no matter what.

By seven-thirty she was back in her room and had showered, dressed, and eaten her standard breakfast of wheat toast, grapefruit, and hot tea.

Regan had just sat down at the desk in the parlor suite to go over her notes when the phone rang.

Cordelia was calling to check in. “How was Rome?”

“Okay.”

“Was your stepfather there?”

“Yes, he was.”

“So how could the trip have been okay? Come on, Regan. You’re talking to me, Cordie.”

Regan sighed. “It was awful,” she admitted. “Just awful.”

“I take it stepdaddy had his new bride with him?”

“Oh, yes, she was there.”

“Is she still hanging out of everything Escada?”

Regan smiled. Cordie did have a way of making the most horrid situations amusing. She knew what her friend was doing— trying to lighten the mood. It worked too. “Not Escada,” she corrected. “Versace. And yes, she’s still spilling out of everything Versace.”

Cordie snorted. “I can just picture it. Were your brothers there?”

“Aiden was, of course. The hotel in Rome was his pet project, and he was his usually serious self. I don’t think I’ve seen him smile in years. Guess that goes with being the oldest.”

“What about Spencer and Walker?”

“Spencer had to stay in Melbourne. Some last-minute problems developed with the design for the new hotel. Walker was there, but only for the reception. He wanted to rest up before the race.”

“So did you speak to him?”

“Yes, I did.”

“Good for you. You’ve finally forgiven him then, haven’t you?”

“I guess I have. He was only doing what he thought was right. Time has given me some perspective, as you predicted, so go ahead and gloat. Besides, I’d feel terrible if he used up all of his lives before I let him know I’d forgiven him. He wrecked another car last month,” she added.

“And walked away without a scratch on him, right?”

“That’s right.”

“I’m glad you aren’t mad at him anymore.”

“I just wish he wouldn’t jump the gun the way he does. He’s so impulsive. I have a couple of dates with a man, and he’s hiring people to investigate him.”

“Excuse me. You had more than a couple of dates with Dennis.”

“Yes, well . . .”

“At least you didn’t let him break your heart. I know for a fact you didn’t love him.”

“How did you know?”

“When you broke up, you didn’t shed a tear. Face it, Regan, you cry at Puppy Chow commercials. If you didn’t cry over Dennis, your heart wasn’t really in it. And just for the record, I’m thrilled you dumped him. He was all wrong for you.”

“At the time I didn’t think he was all wrong. I thought he was close to perfect. We had so much in common. He loved the theater, the ballet, and the opera, and he didn’t mind attending all those fund-raisers. I thought we had the same values—”

“But that wasn’t the real Dennis, was it? He was after your money, Regan, and you’ve got too much going for you to put up with that nonsense.”

“You aren’t going to give me another pep talk about how pretty and smart I am, are you?”

“No, I don’t have time to do the pep talk now. I’ve got to get back to the lab before one of my students blows it up. I’m calling to make sure you got home okay and to ask if you want to have dinner to...

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