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Ceremony in Death

J. D. Robb

  A tradition of murder…

  Praise for Naked in Death:

  chapter one

  chapter two

  chapter three

  chapter four

  chapter five

  chapter six

  chapter seven

  chapter eight

  chapter nine

  chapter ten

  chapter eleven

  chapter twelve

  chapter thirteen

  chapter fourteen

  chapter fifteen

  chapter sixteen

  chapter seventeen

  chapter eighteen

  chapter nineteen

  chapter twenty

  A tradition of murder…

  On the north side of the house was an arbor of thin, somehow fluid iron. The vines twisting and tumbling over it were smothered with flowers wildly red. She had married him there, in an old traditional ceremony where vows were exchanged and promises made. A ceremony, she thought now. A rite that included music, flowers, witnesses, words that were repeated time after time, place after place, century through century…

  So it continued. Science and logic disproved, but the rites continued, incense and chanting, offerings and the drinking of wine that symbolized blood.

  And the sacrifice of the innocent.

  Annoyed with herself, she rubbed her hands over her face. Philosophizing was foolish and useless. Murder had been done by human force. And it was human force that would dispense justice. That was, after all, the ultimate balance of good and evil.

  Praise for Naked in Death:

  “Danger, romance…a masterpiece of fine writing.”


  “Superbly suspenseful and strikingly original.”

  —Romantic Times

  This book contains a preview of J. D. Robb’s next romantic suspense novel

  Vengeance in Death



























  (anthology with Jill Gregory, Ruth Ryan Langan,

  and Marianne Willman)

  FROM THE HEART (anthology)


  (anthology with Susan Plunkett, Dee Holmes, and Claire Cross)

  Titles written as J. D. Robb










  J. D. ROBB



  A Berkley Book / published by arrangement with the author

  All rights reserved.

  Copyright © 1997 by Nora Roberts.

  Excerpt from Vengeance in Death by J. D. Robb copyright © 1997 by Nora Roberts.

  This book may not be reproduced in whole or in part, by mimeograph or any other means, without permission.

  For information address: The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Putnam Inc.,

  375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

  The Penguin Putnam Inc. World Wide Web site address is



  Berkley Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Putnam Inc.,

  375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

  BERKLEY and the “B” design are trademarks belonging to Penguin Putnam Inc.

  15 14 13 12 11 10 9

  There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,

  Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.


  We may not pay Satan reverence, for that would be indiscreet, but we can at least respect his talents.

  —Mark Twain

  chapter one

  Death surrounded her. She faced it daily, dreamed of it nightly. Lived with it always. She knew its sounds, its scents, even its texture. She could look it in its dark and clever eye without a flinch. Death was a tricky foe, she knew. One flinch, one blink, and it could shift, it could change. It could win.

  Ten years as a cop hadn’t hardened her toward it. A decade on the force hadn’t made her accept it. When she looked death in the eye, it was with the cold steel of the warrior.

  Eve Dallas looked at death now. And she looked at one of her own.

  Frank Wojinski had been a good cop, solid. Some would have said plodding. He’d been affable, she remembered. A man who hadn’t complained about the bilge disguised as food at the NYPSD Eatery, or the eye-searing paperwork the job generated. Or, Eve thought, about the fact that he’d been sixty-two and had never made it past the rank of detective sergeant.

  He’d been on the pudgy side and had let his hair gray and thin naturally. It was a rare thing in 2058 for a man to bypass body sculpting and enhancements. Now, in his clear-sided view casket with its single spray of mournful lilies, he resembled a peacefully sleeping monk from an earlier time.

  He’d been born in an earlier time, Eve mused, coming into the world at the end of one millennium and living his life in the next. He’d been through the Urban Wars, but hadn’t talked of them as so many of the older cops did. Frank hadn’t been one for war stories, she recalled. He was more likely to pass around the latest snapshot or hologram of his children and grandchildren.

  He liked to tell bad jokes, talk sports, and had a weakness for soydogs with spiced pickle relish.

  A family man, she thought, one who left behind great grief. Indeed, she could think of no one who had known Frank Wojinski who hadn’t loved him.

  He had died with half his life still ahead of him, died alone, when the heart everyone had thought so huge and so strong had just stopped.

  “Goddamn it.”

  Eve turned, laid a hand on the arm of the man who stepped up beside her. “I’m sorry, Feeney.”

  He shook his head, his droopy camel’s eyes filled with misery. With one hand he raked through his wiry red hair. “On the job would have been easier. I could handle line of duty. But to just stop. To just check out in his easy chair watching arena ball on the screen. It’s not right, Dallas. A man’s not supposed to stop living at his age.”

  “I know.” Not knowing what else to do, Eve draped an arm over his shoulder and steered him away.

  “He trained me. Looked after me when I was a rookie. Never let me down.” Pain radiated through him and glinted dully in his eyes, wavered in his voice. “Frank never let anyone down in his life.”

  “I know,” she said again, because there was nothing else that could be said. She was accustomed to Feeney being tough and strong. The delicacy of his grief worried her.

  She led him through the mourners. The viewing room was packed with cops as well as family. And where there were cops and death, there was coffee. Or what passed for it at such places. She poured a cup, handed it to him.

  “I can’t get around it. I can’t get a hold of it.” He let out a long, uneven breath. He was a sturdy, compact man who wore
his grief as openly as he wore his rumpled coat. “I haven’t talked to Sally yet. My wife’s with her. I just can’t do it.”

  “It’s all right. I haven’t talked to her, either.” Since she had nothing to do with her hands, Eve poured a cup for herself that she didn’t intend to drink. “Everybody’s shook up by this. I didn’t know he had a heart problem.”

  “Nobody did,” Feeney said quietly. “Nobody knew.”

  She kept a hand on his shoulder as she scanned the overcrowded, overwarm room. When a fellow officer went down in the line of duty, cops could be angry, they could be focused, fix their target. But when death snuck in and crooked a capricious finger, there was no one to blame. And no one to punish.

  It was helplessness she felt in the room and that she felt in herself. You couldn’t raise your weapon to fate, or your fist.

  The funeral director, spiffy in his traditional black suit and as waxy-faced as one of his own clients, worked the room with patting hands and sober eyes. Eve thought she’d rather have a corpse sit up and grin at her than listen to his platitudes.

  “Why don’t we go talk to the family together?”

  It was hard for him, but Feeney nodded, set the untouched coffee aside. “He liked you, Dallas. ‘That kid’s got balls of steel and a mind to match,’ he used to tell me. He always said if he was ever jammed, you’d be the one he’d want guarding his back.”

  It surprised and pleased her, and it simultaneously added to her sorrow. “I didn’t realize he thought of me that way.”

  Feeney looked at her. She had an interesting face, not one he’d have called a heart-stopper, but it usually made a man look twice with its angles and sharp bones, the shallow dent in the chin. She had cop’s eyes, intense and measuring, and he often forgot they were a dark golden brown. Her hair was the same shade, cut short and badly in need of some shaping. She was tall and lean and tough-bodied.

  He remembered it had been less than a month since he had come across her, battered and bloodied. But her weapon had been firm in her hand.

  “He thought of you that way. So do I.” While she blinked at him, Feeney squared his hunched shoulders. “Let’s talk to Sally and the kids.”

  They slipped through the crowd jammed together in a room oppressed with dark simulated wood, heavy red draperies, and the funereal smell of too many flowers crammed into too small a space.

  Eve wondered why viewings of the dead were always accompanied by flowers and draping sheets of red. What ancient ceremony did it spring from, and why did the human race continue to cling to it?

  She was certain that when her time came, she wouldn’t chose to be laid out for study by her loved ones and associates in an overheated room where the pervasive scent of flowers was reminiscent of rot.

  Then she saw Sally, supported by her children and her children’s children, and realized such rites were for the living. The dead were beyond caring.

  “Ryan.” Sally held out her hands—small, almost fairylike hands—and lifted her cheek to Feeney’s. She held there a moment, her eyes closed, her face pale and quiet.

  She was a slim, soft-spoken woman who Eve had always thought of as delicate. Yet a cop’s spouse who had survived the stress of the job for more than forty years had to have steel. Against her plain black dress she wore her husband’s twenty-five-year NYPSD ring on a chain.

  Another rite, Eve thought. Another symbol.

  “I’m so glad you’re here,” Sally murmured.

  “I’ll miss him. We’ll all miss him.” Feeney patted her back awkwardly before drawing away. Grief was in his throat, choking him. Swallowing it only lodged it cold and heavy in his gut. “You know if there’s anything…”

  “I know.” Her lips curved slightly, and she gave his hand a quick and comforting squeeze before turning to Eve. “I appreciate you coming, Dallas.”

  “He was a good man. A solid cop.”

  “Yes, he was.” Recognizing it as high tribute, Sally managed a smile. “He was proud to serve and protect. Commander Whitney and his wife are here, and Chief Tibble. And so many others.” Her gaze drifted blindly around the room. “So many. He mattered, Frank mattered.”

  “Of course he did, Sally.” Feeney shifted from foot to foot. “You, ah, know about the Survivor’s Fund.”

  She smiled again, patted his hand. “We’re fine there. Don’t worry. Dallas, I don’t think you really know my family. Lieutenant Dallas, my daughter Brenda.”

  Short, with rounded curves, Eve noted as they clasped hands. Dark hair and eyes, a bit heavy in the chin. Took after her father.

  “My son Curtis.”

  Slim, small boned, soft hands, eyes that were dry but dazed with grief.

  “My grandchildren.”

  There were five of them, the youngest a boy of about eight with a pug nose dashed with freckles. He eyed Eve consideringly. “How come you’ve got your zapper on?”

  Flustered, Eve tugged her jacket over her side arm. “I came straight from Cop Central. I didn’t have time to go home and change.”

  “Pete.” Curtis shot Eve an apologetic wince. “Don’t bother the lieutenant.”

  “If people concentrated more on their personal and spiritual powers, weapons would be unnecessary. I’m Alice.”

  A slim blonde in black stepped forward. She’d have been a stunner in any case, Eve mused, but having sprung from such basic stock, she was dazzling. Her eyes were a soft, dreamy blue, her mouth full and lush and unpainted. She wore her hair loose so that it rained straight and glossy over the shoulders of her flowing black dress. A thin silver chain fell to her waist. At the end of it was a black stone ringed in silver.

  “Alice, you’re such a zip head.”

  She flicked a cool glance over her shoulder toward a boy of about sixteen. But her hands kept fluttering back to the black stone, like elegant birds guarding a nest.

  “My brother Jamie,” she said in a silky voice. “He still thinks name-calling deserves a reaction. My grandfather spoke of you, Lieutenant Dallas.”

  “I’m flattered.”

  “Your husband isn’t with you tonight?”

  Eve arched a brow. Not just grief, she deduced, but nerves. It was easy enough to recognize. Signals as well, but they weren’t clear. The girl was after something, she mused. But what?

  “No, he’s not.” She shifted her gaze back to Sally. “He sends his sympathies, Mrs. Wojinski. He’s off planet.”

  “It must take a great deal of concentration and energy,” Alice interrupted, “to maintain a relationship with a man like Roarke while pursuing a demanding, difficult, even dangerous career. My grandfather used to say that once you had a grip on an investigation, you never let go. Would you say that’s accurate, Lieutenant?”

  “If you let go, you lose. I don’t like to lose.” She held Alice’s odd gaze for a moment, then on impulse crouched down and whispered to Pete. “When I was a rookie, I saw your grandfather zap a guy at ten yards. He was the best.” She was rewarded with a quick grin before she straightened. “He won’t be forgotten, Mrs. Wojinski,” she said, offering her hand. “And he mattered very much to all of us.”

  She started to step back, but Alice laid a hand on her arm, leaned close. The hand, Eve noted, trembled slightly. “It was interesting meeting you, Lieutenant. Thank you for coming.”

  Eve inclined her head and slipped back into the crowd. Casually, she reached a hand into the pocket of her jacket and fingered the thin slip of paper Alice had pushed inside.

  It took her another thirty minutes to get away. She waited until she was outside and in her vehicle before she took the note out and read it.

  Meet me tomorrow, midnight. Aquarian Club.

  TELL NO ONE. Your life is now at risk.

  In lieu of a signature, there was a symbol, a dark line running in an expanding circle to form a sort of maze. Nearly as intrigued as she was annoyed, Eve stuffed the note back in her pocket and started home.

  Because she was a cop, she saw the figure draped in black, hardly
more than a shadow in the shadows. And because she was a cop, she knew he was watching her.

  Whenever Roarke was away, Eve preferred to pretend the house was empty. Both she and Summerset, who served as Roarke’s chief of staff, did their best to ignore the other’s presence. The house was huge, a labyrinth of rooms, which made it a simple matter to avoid one another.

  She stepped into the wide foyer, tossed her scarred leather jacket over the carved newel post because she knew it would make Summerset grind his teeth. He detested having anything mar the elegance of the house. Particularly her.

  She took the stairs, but rather than go to the master bedroom, she veered off to her office suite.

  If Roarke had to spend another night off planet as expected, she preferred to spend hers in her relaxation chair rather than their bed.

  She often dreamed badly when she dreamed alone.

  Between the late paperwork and the viewing, she hadn’t had time for a meal. Eve ordered up a sandwich—real Virginia ham on rye—and coffee that jumped with genuine caffeine. When the AutoChef delivered, she inhaled the scents slowly, greedily. She took the first bite with her eyes closed to better enjoy the miracle.

  There were definite advantages to being married to a man who could afford real meat instead of its by-products and simulations.

  To satisfy her curiosity, she went to her desk and engaged her computer. She swallowed ham, chased it with coffee. “All available data on subject Alice, surname unknown. Mother Brenda, née Wojinski, maternal grandparents Frank and Sally Wojinski.”


  Eve drummed her fingers, took out the note and reread it while she polished off the quick meal.

  Subject Alice Lingstrom. DOB June 10, 2040. First child and only daughter of Jan Lingstrom and Brenda Wojinski, divorced. Residence, 486 West Eighth Street, Apartment 4B, New York City. Sibling, James Lingstrom, DOB March 22, 2042. Education, high school graduate, valedictorian. Two semesters of college: Harvard. Major, anthropology. Minor, mythology. Third semester deferred. Currently employed as clerk, Spirit Quest, 228 West Tenth Street, New York City. Marital status, single.