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Down the Rabbit Hole

J. D. Robb

  Praise for #1 New York Times Bestselling Author

  J. D. ROBB

  “A virtuoso.”

  —Seattle Post-Intelligencer

  “Held me spellbound from the first page to the last.”


  New York Times Bestselling Authors


  “Witty prose.”



  —RT Book Reviews


  “A vibrant new voice in romance.”

  —Patricia Gaffney

  “One of the best-written, original, and fun novels to come across my desk in ages!”

  —M. L. Gamble


  “An introspective and irresistible story.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “A remarkable talent.”

  —RT Book Reviews

  R. C. RYAN

  “Delivers it all—with page-turning romance.”

  —Nora Roberts

  “These not-to-be-missed books are guaranteed to warm your heart!”

  —Fresh Fiction

  An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

  375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014


  A Jove Book / published by arrangement with the authors

  Copyright © 2015 by Penguin Random House LLC.

  “Wonderment in Death” by J. D. Robb copyright © 2015 by Nora Roberts.

  “Alice and the Earl in Wonderland” by Mary Blayney copyright © 2015 by Mary Blayney.

  “iLove” by Elaine Fox copyright © 2015 by Elaine Fox.

  “A True Heart” by Mary Kay McComas copyright © 2015 by Mary Kay McComas.

  “Fallen” by R. C. Ryan copyright © 2015 by Ruth Ryan Langan.

  Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

  JOVE® is a registered trademark of Penguin Random House LLC.

  The “J” design is a trademark of Penguin Random House LLC.

  For more information, visit

  eBook ISBN: 978-0-698-17577-8


  Jove mass-market edition / October 2015

  Cover images: “Landscape” by Petar Paunchev / Shutterstock; “Hat” by Albund / Shutterstock.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.



  Praise for the authors

  Title Page



  J. D. ROBB








  R. C. RYAN


  J. D. ROBB

  I shall not commit the fashionable stupidity

  of regarding everything I cannot explain

  as a fraud.


  We’re all mad here.



  The dead were his business.

  Over the years, he’d built a tidy fortune—though it was never enough, never quite enough—exploiting the dead and those who loved them.

  He loved his work, reveled in it, and all the bright and shiny things his efforts amassed. But over and above the profit, or at least running through the dollars and euros and pounds, was sheer glee.

  A man who didn’t laugh himself sick seven times a day didn’t know how to live.

  One of his greatest amusements—and in truth he had so many—but one of his greatest was when the time came around to turn the living into the dead.

  That time had come around for Darlene Fitzwilliams, she of the ebony hair and haunted blue eyes. Such a pretty creature. He’d thought so on their first acquaintance, and had thought the same a number of times over the past five months.

  He might have kept her longer, as he did love pretty things, but she had committed the greatest sin.

  She’d begun to bore him.

  She sat now in the cluttered, colorful parlor of his cluttered, colorful house, as she had once every week for four and a half months. She called him Doctor Bright, one of his many names and as false as all the rest.

  “Doctor Bright,” she said after sipping the tea he always provided, “I had a terrible argument with my brother this afternoon. It was my fault—I missed an important appointment with the lawyers regarding the estate. I just forgot. I was distracted, knowing I’d be coming here, and I forgot. Marcus was so upset and impatient with me. He doesn’t understand, Doctor Bright. If I could just explain . . .”

  Bright lifted his dark, dramatic eyebrows. “What did your father say, dear?”

  “He said it wasn’t time.” She leaned forward, all that hope and faith (and how tedious that had become) glowing on her face. “I’m so anxious to talk to him and Mama again.”

  “And you will, of course.”

  He sipped his tea, smiled at her. “Drink your tea. It will help open you to communications.”

  She obeyed, biddable, boring girl.

  “It’s hard not to tell him. And Henry.”

  The tea made her talkative, a little giddy. The effects had amused him initially. Now he saw her as an excitable little mouse, scurrying everywhere at once. And he wanted to whack her with a hammer.

  “I’m going to meet Henry tonight,” she continued. “He wants to set the date, and that’s something else I want to talk to Mama and Daddy about. They were so pleased when Henry and I got engaged. And then . . .”

  “Transitions, a journey.” He played his fingers in the air as he spoke, watched her watch them dance. “Nothing more.”

  “Yes, I know that now. It’s just . . . I want to share this with Marcus, and with Henry.”

  “But you haven’t.”

  “No. I promised you, and my father. You said I’d know when it was time, and I feel it is. I hate not being honest with the people I love, even for people I love. If Henry and I set the date tonight—that’s a kind of journey, too, isn’t it? Marriage.”

  “And do you feel ready for that journey?”

  “I do. Coming here, all I’ve learned, it’s shown me there aren’t any ends, just other paths. Before I came to you, everything seemed so dark, so final. And now . . .”

  She beamed at him, her eyes wide and bright, and just going glassy. “I can never repay you for all you’ve given me.”

  “It’s my gift to give. Regrettably, at a price.”

  “Oh, of course.” She laughed—giddy, yes giddy, primed by his tea party. Opening her bag, she took out a thick red envelope.

  Always red for Ms. Fitzwilliams, with cash (he only took cash) in the amount of nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine dollars sealed inside. He’d told her red protected the offering, and nine was a number of power.

  In truth red was his current favorit
e color (though it was about to be supplanted by purple), and he found all those nines amusing.

  Darlene set it, as she’d been instructed, on the silver tray on the tea table.

  “And the tokens?” he prompted. He wouldn’t touch or count the money. The lovely Ms. March would see to all that. But when the biddable girl took two red pouches from her bag, Bright’s fingers itched.

  These he took, these he touched, these he stroked.

  The desk clock was old, heavy crystal, small enough to fit in the palm of his hand. Its monetary value Bright estimated in the low thousands, but it was worth so much more to him.

  He could feel Gareth Fitzwilliams’s energy shimmering on it, and his father’s before him, and yes, even generations back. So many hands touching, so many eyes marking time.

  He opened the second pouch, took out the slim, antique ladies’ watch. A tiny diamond butterfly perched above the twelve, and pretty diamond chips circled the face.

  Yes, Bria Fitzwilliams had worn it often, choosing it in lieu of more stylish and practical wrist units, clasping it on thinking of her own mother, her mother’s mother, and back five generations.

  Time marked again, birth to death, death to birth and round and round.

  “You chose well.”

  “They’re favorites.”

  “Strong energy. Strong connections. Are you ready?”

  He slipped each pouch in a pocket so he could take her hand, lead her from the room. He could feel the vibrations—excitement, fear? Wasn’t it all too delicious?

  He led her up stairs he liked for their zigzagging climb, down a corridor he enjoyed as the paint and wainscoting he’d designed gave it the illusion of a slant.

  The girl weaved like a drunk, so he had to stifle a quick giggle.

  He took her into what he called the Passage Room, where lights glowed blue. She took her seat—a good girl—in the high-backed armchair on the raised platform. The height would keep their eyes level, an essential element to what came next.

  “Breathe deep,” he told her as a blue mist swirled around the chair. “Slow and deep. Hear my voice.”

  Behind him a white spiral formed on the wall, began to spin. Lights flashed, strobing colors.

  “Open your mind.”

  A hat seemed to float down, to settle on Darlene’s head, its long, red feathers swaying. For a moment it banded tight around her skull, caused discomfort, then that eased, and colors washed the room. She smelled flowers, and her mother’s perfume.


  “A moment more.” Pleased with her quick response, he stepped over to a cupboard, opened it, and chose a hat for himself out of the dozens stored there.

  A top hat in bold red, for young Ms. Fitzwilliams.

  “Into my eyes, into my voice. Follow both to the threshold.”

  Her eyes were glass, pinned to his. Helpless, he thought, and this time he did giggle.

  He slipped into her mind—so easy now, like sliding on ice—and saw as she saw.

  A sun-drenched meadow under perfect blue skies. Birds twittered; a warm breeze fluttered the flowers spread everywhere over the ground.

  There, under a tall tree spreading dappled shade on a pretty slope, stood Gareth and Bria Fitzwilliams. Young, smiling, he handsome in his white suit, she lovely in her flowing white dress.

  With a happy cry, Darlene ran to her dead parents and embraced them.

  Touching, Bright thought, so very touching. He dabbed a mock tear from the corner of his eye and gave her nearly twenty minutes to walk in the meadow.

  It was never enough, of course, and she was protesting, reaching out, when the blue mist swirled over the flowers. But it was all he could spare her this time—this last time.

  He gave her instructions, made her repeat them twice before he removed her hat, and his own. He led her downstairs where the inestimable Ms. March had her coat and bag—and what was now inside it—waiting.

  He helped her on with her coat himself, checked to be sure the recorder was properly affixed. After all his time and effort, he deserved to join the farewell party.

  “Once you’re in the car, driving away, you won’t remember me or this house or anything we’ve talked about. You’ll remember your parents, of course, and all you spoke of with them.” He kissed her hand, gallantly. “It’s been a pleasure, my dear.”

  “Thank you, Doctor.”

  “And where are you going now?”

  “To see my brother. We argued. I need to tell him everything and give him a gift.”

  “That’s excellent. Good-bye, Ms. Fitzwilliams.”

  “Good-bye, Doctor Bright.”

  She walked out and to the curb, where his own driver held open the door of his town car. He waved her cheerily off, stepped back, shut the door.

  And laughing like a loon, did a jig around the foyer.

  “Oh, was that too, too precious?”

  He grabbed March’s hands, and kicking off her practical black heels, she joined him in the dance. Giggling with him, she pulled the pins out of her sensible bun so her long, brown hair tumbled and swirled.

  “It’s party time, Bright!”

  “It’s always party time, March!”

  They clutched each other, swaying as they caught their breath. “A surprise party,” he said, “and we mustn’t be late. To the theater, March, and don’t spare the popcorn!”

  They raced off together to watch the show.

  In the car, Darlene felt energized, almost euphoric. The lights of the city glittered like ice. She was warm, almost too warm, in the car, and reached for the tall, slim glass of clear liquid marked Drink Me.

  Cool and light on the tongue, it made her smile.

  She was going to see Marcus. They’d argued earlier, she could hardly remember why. But the why didn’t matter. They would make up, and she’d tell him about the dreams she’d been having. Dreams of their parents, and how they’d helped her accept their sudden, tragic deaths.

  They were together, away from all pain, all worry, all sorrow.

  She felt the same, right at that moment. She should contact Henry, tell him she’d bring Marcus with her. They’d set the date for the wedding.

  But when she started to reach for her ’link, a pain shot up her arm.

  Because she wasn’t supposed to do that, she remembered. She wasn’t supposed to talk to Henry yet. Marcus. She was supposed to see Marcus.

  She didn’t complain when the car pulled over a block from Marcus’s building, but got out, began to walk. The frigid January wind whistled around her ears. It was almost like voices.

  A new year, she reminded herself as headlights beamed into her eyes. The year she’d marry Henry Boyle: 2061.

  Her parents had died in June of 2060. She wanted them at her wedding. She’d dream them there, she decided. She’d explain it all to Henry—no, Marcus; Marcus first. And they’d all be happy again.

  “Evening, Miss Fitzwilliams.”

  She stared at the doorman. He wore a big red heart over his chest and was gobbling what seemed to be a cherry tart.

  Then she blinked, and it was just Philip the night doorman in his thick navy coat.

  “You okay, miss?”

  “Yes, yes. Sorry. My mind went somewhere. I’m going up to see my brother.”

  He opened the door for her and, God, the lobby looked so long, so narrow, so bright. “Is he alone?”

  “As far as I know. He came in a couple hours ago. Want me to call up for you?”

  “Oh, that’s all right.” The elevator doors looked so shiny. She could see worlds reflected in them. She stepped in, had to think very hard to remember. “Fifty-two east.”

  The ride up made her feel a little drunk. She needed something to eat, she decided. Had she had dinner? Odd that she couldn’t remember.

  A couple got in
as she got out, called her by name.

  “Oh hello.” She smiled at them, the man with the grinning cat’s face and the woman wearing a crown. “I’m going to see Marcus. I have something for him.”

  She rang the bell on her brother’s door, waited with a smile until he opened it.

  “I wasn’t expecting to see you.”

  “I know.” Just as she knew he was still angry with her. She held out a hand for his. “I’m so sorry, Marcus.”

  He sighed, shook his head. Closed the door behind her. “I miss them, too, Darli, and we owe it to them to make sure everything’s done right, for the estate, for the business, for the rest of the family.”

  “I know.”

  “You can’t keep closing in, shutting down.”

  “I know. I know. It’s been so hard, Marcus, losing them the way we did, and I haven’t handled it well. I haven’t done my share.”

  “It’s not about the work,” he began, then his eyes narrowed on her face. “Have you been drinking?”

  “What? No!” She laughed. “Just tea, lots of tea, and I’ve got so much to tell you. I needed to talk to them first.”

  “To who?”

  “Mama and Daddy, of course.”


  “I needed to know they’re all right. In a better place. I can see them there, and it’s beautiful. It’s Wonderland!”

  “Okay.” He set a hand on her shoulder. “Okay.”

  “I brought you something, like a peace offering.”

  “Fine. Take off your coat, let’s sit down. We need to talk.”

  “In a minute,” she muttered. She opened her bag, stared at the red scarf. Her fingers floated over it, through it, and down to the bright red rose beneath.

  “For you,” she said and pushed it at him. In him.

  He looked at her so strangely, but then he wasn’t the sort of man who expected a flower. Delighted, she pulled it back, pushed it at him again.

  And again, until he sprawled in the meadow covered with red roses.

  “I’ll get Mama and Daddy now, so you can talk to them. Sit right there!” She raced across the meadow, pushed past long, flowering vines that barred the view. And climbed to the top of the hill.