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HACKER SAFE certified sites prevent over 99% of hacker crime.

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Killer Takes All [Secure eReader]
eBook by Erica Spindler

eBook Category: Mystery/Crime
eBook Description: When her friend Cassie is brutally murdered, Stacy Killian is compelled to investigate, drawing herself deep into Cassie's underground world of role-playing. Only now the game is real--and deadly. And Stacy is the killer's next target...

eBook Publisher: Harlequin/MIRA
Fictionwise Release Date: December 2005


7 Reader Ratings:
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CHAPTER 1

Monday, February 28, 2005
1:30 a.m.
New Orleans, Louisiana

Stacy Killian opened her eyes, fully awake. The sound that had awakened her came again.

Pop. Pop.

Gunshots.

She sat up and, in one fluid movement, swung her legs over the side of the bed and went for the Glock .40 that waited in the drawer of her nightstand. Ten years of police work had conditioned her to react to that particular sound without hesitation.

Stacy checked the gun's magazine, crossed to the window and inched aside the drape. The moon illuminated the deserted yard. Several spindly trees, dilapidated swing set, dog pen minus Caesar, her neighbor Cassie's Labrador retriever puppy.

No sound. No movement.

Padding silently on bare feet, Stacy made her way out of the bedroom, into the adjoining study, weapon out. She rented one half of a hundred-year-old shotgun double, a style of home made popular in the era before air-conditioning.

Stacy swung left, then right, taking in every detail: the stacks of research books for the paper she was writing on Shelley's "Mont Blanc," her open laptop computer, the half-drunk bottle of cheap red wine. The shadows. Their depth, stillness.

As she expected, each room in the house proved a repeat of the last. The sound that had awakened her had not come from inside her apartment.

She reached the front door, eased it open and stepped out onto the front porch. The sagging wood creaked beneath her feet, the only sound on the otherwise deserted street. She shivered as the wet, chilly night enveloped her.

The neighborhood appeared to be asleep. Few lights shone from windows or porches. Stacy scanned the street. She noted several unfamiliar vehicles, which wasn't unusual for an area inhabited mostly by university students. All the vehicles appeared empty.

Stacy stood in the shadow of her front door, listening to the silence. Suddenly, from nearby, came the sound of a trash barrel toppling over. Laughter followed. Kids, she realized. Practicing the urban equivalent of cow tipping.

She frowned. Could that have been the sound that awakened her? Altered by sleep and instincts she no longer trusted?

A year ago such a thought wouldn't have crossed her mind. But a year ago she'd been a cop, a homicide detective with the Dallas P.D. She'd yet to endure the betrayal that had not only stripped her of her confidence but had galvanized her to act on her growing dissatisfaction with her life and job.

Stacy gripped the Glock firmly. She was already freezing her ass off, she might as well take this thing to its conclusion. She slipped into her muddy gardening clogs that were perched on a rack by the door. She made her way across the porch and down the steps to her side yard. Circling around to the backyard, she acknowledged that nothing appeared out of order.

Her hands shook. She fought the panic wanting to rise up in her. The fear that she had lost it, and gone totally around the bend.

This had happened before. Twice. The first time just after she moved in. She'd awakened to what she thought were shots fired and had roused all her neighbors within earshot.

And those times, like now, she'd uncovered nothing but a silent, sleeping street. The false alarm had not ingratiated her to her new neighbors. Most had been understandably pissed off.

But not Cassie. Instead, the other woman had invited her in for hot chocolate.

Stacy shifted her gaze to Cassie's side of the double, to the light that shone from one of the rear windows.

She stared at the lit window, head filling with the memory of the sound that had awakened her. The shots had been too loud to have come from anywhere but right next door.

Why hadn't she realized that right away?

Overcome with a feeling of dread, she ran for Cassie's porch stairs. She reached them, stumbled and righted herself, a dozen different reassurances racing through her head: the sound had been a figment of her subconscious; seriously sleep deprived, she was imagining things; Cassie was in a deep, peaceful sleep.

She reached her friend's door and pounded on it. She waited, then pounded again. "Cassie!" she called. "It's Stacy. Open up!"

When the other woman didn't respond, she grabbed the knob and twisted.

The door opened.

Gripping the Glock with both hands, she nudged the door open with her foot and stepped inside. Absolute quiet greeted her.

She called out again, hearing the hopeful note in her voice. The quiver of fear.

Even as she told herself her mind was playing tricks on her, she saw that it wasn't.

Cassie lay facedown on the living room floor, half on and half off the oval rag rug. A large, dark stain haloed her body. Blood, Stacy acknowledged. A lot of blood.

Stacy began to tremble. Swallowing hard, she worked to quell the reaction. To step outside herself. Think like a cop.

She crossed to her friend. She squatted beside her, feeling herself slipping into professional mode. Separating herself from what had happened, who it had happened to.

She checked Cassie's wrist for a pulse. When she found none, she moved her gaze over the body. It looked as if Cassie had been shot twice, once between the shoulder blades, the other in the back of the head. What was left of her blond, curly bob was matted with blood. She was fully dressed: denims, cloud-blue T-shirt, Birkenstocks. Stacy recognized the shirt; it was one of Cassie's favorites. From memory she knew the front read: Dream. Love. Live.

Tears choked her; Stacy fought them. Crying wouldn't help her friend. But keeping her cool just might help catch her killer.

A sound came from the back of the apartment.

Beth.

Or the killer.

Copyright © 2005 by Erica Spindler.


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