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Excerpt for STRANGERS (reissue)

HQN
October 2011, ISBN: 0373770847

Genre: Contemporary Suspense

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(Excerpts from the two books MYSTERY MAN and OBSESSION which make up STRANGERS)

MYSTERY MAN

Chapter One

“I think I’ve found your man.”

Chelsea Reed froze.  She glanced up sharply from the jewelry counter where she’d been taking inventory.  “Devlin?” she asked, focusing on the short man with the unremarkable           features and small eyes.  Adrenaline surged through her.  “He’s alive?

Ned Jenkins tapped the counter top with his blunt fingers and a smug smile played on his lips.  He was one of the best private investigators in the bay area and Chelsea had hired him three months before to find Devlin McVey.  Now, surrounded by silk dresses, brilliant scarves and designer handbags in the boutique, Jenkins looked like the proverbial fish out of water.

“I’d bet money on it,”he said, seeming satisfied with himself.

“Where is he?”

Jenkins snorted.  “The Caribbean.  Looks like he wanted to disappear, but good.”

“The Carribean . . .”  Chelsea swallowed against a suddenly dry throat.  Her fingers griped the counter.  So Devlin, damn him, had run away, leaving her alone to deal with her grief.

Memories–some wonderful, some filled with pain–swam before her eyes.  Her heart began to knock in her chest.

“Where exactly is he?”

“On an obscure island called Pardis.  Believe me, this place is off the beaten path.”

“And you’ve seen him, you’re sure it’s Devlin?”

For an answer he snapped open a battered old briefcase, pulled out a manila envelope and dumped the contents of the packet onto the table.  There were several snapshots and a large, glossy eight-by-ten color photo, which he slid toward her.  “Unless I miss my guess, this is McVey.”

Chelsea picked up the photograph, her heart racing at the sight of a handsome, roguish-looking man with tanned skin, bladed cheekbone and unruly black hair that brushed across the collar of his faded denim jacket.  His eyes were hidden by mirrored aviator sunglasses, his jaw disguised by a dark beard.  He was grimacing and he looked tough and hard.  “I don’t know,” she said quietly, remembering Devlin as he had been–dark and sensual, with a hard edge that hinted at danger.  This man could be him, but then again . . .

“Well, he changed his looks, of course.  People usually do when they want to get lost,” Jenkins said, leaning forward and tossing another picture, a photograph of Devlin taken six months before the accident, onto the counter.  “But check out his cheek bones, hmm?  An the way he parts his hair a little off center?  And his nose--” He pointed to the larger photograph, then to the small snapshot.  “–compare them.  Identical.  Looks as if that nose was broken somewhere along the line–maybe more than once.”

“Several times,” she thought aloud.


Jenkins paused, his brow furrowing.  “There’s something I don’t understand about this.  You were planning to marry McVey’s best friend, the guy who drowned in the accident, right?”

Chelsea swallowed hard.  Grief stole into her heart.  John Sterns’s death was still hard to accept.

“So why all the interest in McVey?”

Chelsea had a ready answer for a questions she’d asked herself a million times.  “Because Devlin was John’s best friend and he was supposedly killed, as well.  I never believed it.  And this– ” she tapped on the large photo of Devlin “–proves I’m right.  I think he might know something about John’s death–something that hasn’t come out in the police reports.”

“Stern’s death was ruled an accident.”

“I know, but I’m not convinced.”

Jenkins eyed her and rubbed the back of his neck thoughtfully.  “Listen, I’m going to give you some free advice.”

As if she hadn’t heard enough from everyone on the planet, she thought.

Jenkins rambled on.  “Drop this thing.  If you fiancé died in an accident, it’s over.  If there was something else involved, let the police handle it.”

“I just want to know why Devlin disappeared,” Chelsea replied.  And why John died.

“He might have his reasons.  Some people who vanish like it that way.”

Too bad, Chelsea thought, catching a glimpse of the bearded man in the picture.  If this man were truly Devlin–and she had begun to believe he was–he had a lot to answer for.

OBSESSION

Prologue

Whispering Hills Hospital


The patient rocked slowly back and forth in his chair.  His eyes, deep-set and pale blue, stared at the television screen and though he didn’t speak, his lips moved, as if he were trying to say something to the woman on the small color screen, the cohost of West Coast Morning.

Kaylie, her name was.  He had a picture of her.  The one they hadn’t found.  The one the orderlies had overlooked.  It was old and faded, the slickness nearly worn off, but every night he stared at that picture and pretended she was there, with him, in his hospital bed.

She was so beautiful.  Her ong blond hair shimmered in soft curls around her face, and her eyes were green-blue, like the ocean.  He’d seen her once, touched her, felt her quiver against him.

He sucked in his breath at the familiar thought.  He could almost smell her perfume.

“Hey, Lee, ol’ buddy.  How about some sound?” the orderly, the tall lanky one called Rick, walked to the television and fiddled with the controls.  The volume roared and the singsong jingle for cereal blared in a deafening roar in the patient’s ears.

“Nooooo!” the patient cried, clapping his hands to the sides of his head, trying to block ou the sound.  “No, no, no!”

“Okay, okay.   Hey, man, don’t get upset.”  Rick held his palms outward before quickly turning down the volume.  “Hey, Lee, ya gotta learn to chill out a little. Relax.”

“No noise!” the patient said with an effort and Rick sighed loudly as he stripped the bed of soiled sheets.

“Yeah, I know, no noise.  Just like every day at thie time.  I don’t get it you know.  All day long you’re fine, until the morning shows come on.  Maybe you should watch something else--”

But the patient didn’t hear.  The program had resumed an Kaylie–his Kaylie–was staring into the camera again, smiling.  For him.  He felt suddenly near tears as her green eyes locked with his and her perfect lips moved in silent words of love.  It won’t be long, he thought, his own lips twitching.  Reaching deep into his pocket, he rubbed his warn picture between his thumb and forefinger.

Just wait for me.  I’ll come to you.  Soon.