Chasing ShadowsKaren Harper
The dead still talk if you know how to listen...
Every case that Claire Britten cracks is a win, not only professionally but personally. The forensic psychologist has spent a lifetime fighting a neurological disorder, and her ability to conquer it is a testament to her razor-sharp intuition.
Nick Markwood is used to winning in the courtroom, so when his latest case is overthrown by Claire’s expert testimony, he can’t help being impressed by her skill. He needs her on the team of his passion project—investigating unusual cases involving mysterious deaths. Her condition doesn’t deter him, and neither does the attraction that sparks between them...even if it should.
As they join forces to investigate a murder in St. Augustine, Florida, Claire is thrust into a situation far more dangerous than she’d anticipated, pushing her disorder to a breaking point. Just when she fears she can’t trust her own mind, she discovers Nick’s personal connection to the case—and wonders whether she can trust anyone at all.
Praise for the novels of Karen Harper
“The thrilling finish takes a twist that most readers won’t see coming. While intrigue is the main driver of the story, the able, well-researched plotting and sympathetic characters will keep romance readers along for the ride.”
—Publishers Weekly on Broken Bonds
“Haunting suspense, tender romance and an evocative look at the complexities of Amish life—Dark Angel is simply riveting!”
—Tess Gerritsen, New York Times bestselling author
“A compelling story...intricate and fascinating details of Amish life.”
—Tami Hoag, New York Times bestselling author, on Dark Road Home
“Harper, a master of suspense, keeps readers guessing about crime and love until the very end...of this thrilling tale.”
—Booklist on Fall from Pride (starred review)
“Danger and romance find their way into Ohio Amish country in a lively and endearing first installment of the Amish Home Valley series.”
—Publishers Weekly on Fall from Pride
“A tale guaranteed to bring shivers to the spine, Down River will delight Harper’s current fans and earn her many more.”
—Booklist (starred review)
“Well-researched and rich in detail... With its tantalizing buildup and well-developed characters, this offering is certain to earn Harper high marks.”
—Publishers Weekly on Dark Angel, winner of the Mary Higgins Clark Award
Also available from New York Times bestselling author Karen Harper
Home Valley Amish
UPON A WINTER’S NIGHT
DARK CROSSINGS (featuring “The Covered Bridge”)
RETURN TO GRACE
FALL FROM PRIDE
THE HIDING PLACE
BELOW THE SURFACE
DARK ROAD HOME
Look for Karen Harper’s next novel
available soon from MIRA Books.
Visit karenharperauthor.com for more titles.
To Bill and Sunny
for their great St. Augustine hospitality
and, as ever, to Don.
Excerpt from Drowning Tides by Karen Harper
Collier County Courthouse
Surely nothing else could go wrong now. As Claire Britten and her client left the courtroom in triumph, she was convinced she was on a roll. She felt like making a fist pump in the air but she kept her cool.
As a thirtysomething single mother struggling with building a career and coping with a dreadful disease, this high-profile victory had to help. Her interviews and testimony had made all the difference in the trial. A guilty man was going to prison instead of hiding out so he and his family could enjoy a three-million-dollar death settlement. Her current client, Lifeboat Insurance, small as it was, had beaten out the vaunted law firm of Markwood, Benton and Chase. She’d helped to best the best in the business.
Claire was swept outside with her boss and their lawyer, past the big pillars holding up the shaded, covered walkway. They hit a wave of humidity and reporters, washing toward them in the mid-September afternoon. She fumbled in her purse for her sunglasses amid shouted questions, the thrust of arms with recorders...padded microphones on poles...jostling, shouting...
Over the crowd noise, her client Fred Myron shouted in her ear. “That fancy defense lawyer’s the one who needs a lifeboat now. I’m going with this for all it’s worth. I see cameras from Ft. Myers, even Orlando! Look at that—CNN!”
A long pole with a padded microphone brushed Claire’s shoulder and someone shouted, “Ms. Britten, tell us how you first knew the wife and son were lying! Hadn’t Sol Sorento covered his tracks to make everyone think he drowned in Key West? What were the clues he wasn’t dead?”
“As I testified on the stand,” Claire answered, “Mrs. Sorento and Mario sometimes slipped into the present tense when talking about him. I theorized they knew he was alive and were in contact with him. Then a call they made was traced to the Bahamas where the insurance firm detective took over to locate him.”
Another voice, a woman’s: “Ms. Britten, can you explain for our viewers what you mean by a forensic autopsy you did on the accused? You’re not a doctor, but that sounds really medical, and you didn’t even have a body to work with.”
“I am not a medical doctor or a psychiatrist, but a forensic psychologist. A forensic autopsy, which some call a psychological autopsy, means taking apart and studying a person’s life—often their motives and alibi. I do interviews, not interrogations, of those close to the deceased to learn who might be responsible for foul play. Please take a look at my website and...”
Someone bumped into her from behind, pressing closer. The crowd noise and a small jet going over made her shout to be heard. Oh, it wasn’t a jet but a drone. Could the media be filming from it, or could it belong to security here? Its whine was like a screaming mosquito, and it wasn’t even directly overhead. It seemed to hover above the Sorento defense team. A few others looked up at it, too.
She asked the rep
orter, “Can we just step over there a minute in the grass in the shade of the palms?”
Surely this publicity would lead to more future clients than her business Facebook page and website had brought in. This would be a starred item in her meager resume. She’d already been covered in The Naples Daily News so she was banking on that to promote her struggling one-woman Certified Fraud Examiner and Forensic Psychologist business she’d named Clear Path. Despite Jace’s monthly child support, she wanted to stand on her own for herself and little Lexi. Besides, she believed in her work and maybe now could start believing in herself again.
But had she remembered to take her meds on time? Spending so much time in court had played havoc with her schedule. She’d like to pop a piece of chocolate for some quick caffeine, but not with everyone watching. She’d had to miss her short afternoon nap. All week she’d had to cut back on her regular jolts of caffeine so she didn’t have to run to the bathroom during testimony and so she could be there for the reading of the verdict. All she needed was to doze off or have a horrible hallucination triggered by all this emotion.
Fred kept a firm hold on her arm. No doubt he wanted in on this interview. She wondered if any of these reporters would turn up that having to pay the huge death insurance benefits for Sol Sorento would have sunk little local Lifeboat Insurance into the depths of bankruptcy. Her theory was that, desperate to prove the Sorento family’s claim was bogus, Fred had borrowed money to investigate and fight the claim. She’d like to deal with larger, more reputable firms, but she needed to build her bank account.
Trailing reporters, they moved down the walk toward a patch of grass near the four-story parking garage. Claire noted the lead lawyer for Sorento, Nick Markwood, walked away from his group and made straight for her, his suit jacket slung over one arm, his shirt blinding white in the sun.
The man had been amazing in court, forceful, clever. She knew he wasn’t used to losing. Was he going to shove his way in here to make his point in the interview? His law firm was a force around here, powerfully promoted on billboards and through TV spots, but with his looks and voice, she supposed he could usually sell anyone on anything. He was a commanding figure, tall and tanned with a sculpted face and physique, maybe forty, going silver at the temples, which matched his steely eyes. She’d had plenty of time to study him and she had to admit she’d enjoyed watching him work and psyching him out when he spoke in that deep, commanding voice.
“So,” the first reporter, a blonde woman with a Live at Five cameraman, was saying, “what other hints besides verb tense that his family was lying? A lot of our readers might not get that.”
“As I testified, besides verbal cues, I rely on body language, the closed, defensive look liars often use with legs and arms crossed,” Claire explained. “If you mention my website—here’s my card—you’ll find my list of other signs that can suggest a witness, acquaintance or family member is lying. I also—”
A loud crack slammed through the noise. People stopped and looked around and up. Fred let go of her arm and stepped away. Someone screamed, “Gun! Gun!”
People scattered, ducked, shouted. A voice screamed, “Oh. He’s been hit!”
A second shot, a breaking of the sky. Pain, searing pain in her arm, her body, somewhere. Had she fallen into a fire? Was this a narcoleptic nightmare?
She fell back onto the green sea with royal palms swaying overhead, and she was with Jace and Lexi. At the beach by the pier. But the sun burned her skin, her arm.
“Call 9-1-1!” someone shouted.
A man’s deep voice, maybe Jace. But he was flying from LA to Singapore now. No, not Jace bending over her, wrapping his necktie around her upper arm, then pressing his hand hard against her. It was that lawyer, that man who had studied and glared at her when she testified, the one who had cross-examined her. The one who had almost made her doubt her own words. Nick Markwood, still watching her, what she said, her mouth. That mouth—she screamed.
“Don’t move,” he said. “You’ve been shot. I know I’m hurting you, but I have to stop the bleeding. Lie still. Help is coming. Is there a doctor here?” he yelled.
More screaming. Not hers, maybe sirens coming closer. Strobe lights, or was that the sun?
Someone shouted, “Is anyone else down?”
Down? They couldn’t keep her down. Never. But red-sunset blood shone from the man’s shirtsleeves, his hands. Hands on her.
Someone cried, “I think the insurance guy is dead. Did anyone see who shot them?”
“From the parking garage. Didn’t see him. One cop car went after him when he fled...only two shots...”
Searing red burning pain made worse by the man staring down at her, bending over, pressing into her hurt arm. Did he know she could easily fall asleep? Did he know the high school bullies had taunted, “Claire Fowler, Claire Foul-up! Foul-up!” when she’d fallen asleep reading, eating, sitting on the volleyball bench, even standing up? Her disease had ruined her marriage—her fault but Jace’s, too. Would her sister keep Lexi if she died, or would Jace try to take her away, far away?
She heard someone sobbing from fear and pain. It was so close. She guessed it was her.
* * *
Nick Markwood fought to keep Claire Britten conscious, tried to stop the bleeding from her upper left arm. Maybe all the blood made her wound look bigger than it was. He’d seen gunshot wounds before, in his worst nightmares of finding his father, even worse than this.
Now, both of them and the grass were spattered with her blood. She was slender, maybe didn’t have much to lose. Too slender. And that bounty of stunning red hair and alabaster skin stood out in this sunny South Florida of bottled blondes and bronzed skin. With her green eyes, he’d thought she looked like some Irish colleen off a St. Patrick’s Day card, here among the snowbirds and native Floridians. But she had those eyes tight shut now in pain.
In court, he’d had to fight to keep his mind off her looks and on her testimony so he could tear it apart, but she’d torn their case apart. He didn’t need the loss, hated losses. Too many from too far back. But maybe it had all worked out for the best—if she’d trust him and if she didn’t die like her boss who’d been standing close to her. The shooter had been really good. But had he meant to kill them both and just wounded her? He’d evidently blown away Fred Myron with one hit. A shooter out for revenge from Sol Sorento’s big family?
Or—and this scared and angered him too—since he’d been moving close to the two victims, Nick’s next thought had been that the bullets could have been meant for him. Clayton Ames had his ways of ruining things. He must know Nick would never give up his crusade to nail the bastard. Ames and his lackeys managed to wreak havoc and then disappear just that fast. Talk about Sol Sorento vanishing for two years to try to pull off this fraud. The master murderer Clay Ames had reeked of deceit and danger for years but stayed too slippery to prosecute or even locate lately.
Shrill sirens came close, drowning out other voices, even the ones in his head. The court staff and reporters shouted and pointed to bring the rescue squad to Claire. Running steps; the joggling sound of the equipment in their bags. Reporters’ cameras still rolling.
Though they were heading right for them, like some damn idiot, Nick shouted, “Here! Here! She’s shot in the upper left arm and bleeding bad!”
They knelt, bent over her. “Should I let go?” he asked them. “I don’t want to let go.”
“Good job, sir. We’ll take over now,” a medic said. Nick watched as they put a better tourniquet on her and some sort of a plastic patch over the wound. Tears streamed down her cheeks so she was conscious.
Nick sat back on his haunches. His muscles ached. He was a mess. He stood, moved away, ignoring questions shouted at him by the press. He usually kept his comments—especially after losses—to a minimum. They’d done him and his mother no favors when his dad died.
Talk about blood on someone’s hands...
Sean, one of his associates, pulled him away, but he didn’t want to go. Nick wanted to know she’d be all right. If he hadn’t wanted to talk to her, he wouldn’t have been near her when she was hit. But he needed to make her an offer she could not refuse.
Police pushed everyone back, wound some police tape between a courthouse pillar and two royal palms. He watched the second rescue squad bend over the dead man, feel for a pulse, then stand, whispering, shaking their heads. One guy got on his cell, probably to the ME. A police officer of the growing number of them covered Fred Myron with a body bag, but they didn’t move him yet.
They were getting ready to move her already, Claire Fowler Britten, the sharp little expert who had done his case in with her clever questioning of Sorento’s family and her steady testimony he couldn’t shake. He wanted her for that.
He let Sean carry his briefcase and started dazedly toward the parking garage before he saw that was being cordoned off, too. He got only a few steps before one of the officers hurried up and asked, “Did you see the shooter, counselor? Anything that would help?”
“Nothing. I was going to talk to her—the forensic psychologist. Tell her she’d done a good job. I—I was looking at her. I saw her go down from the shot, tried to help her.”
“You did. They’re taking her to the hospital downtown.”
“Did they say she’ll be okay?”
“We’ll know soon. We’ve got to notify Mr. Myron’s next of kin, then notify hers. It’s bad when NOK learn things from the media, and they’re all over here.”
“You know I’m available if you have more questions,” Nick said.
He had already checked out where Claire lived, an attached villa in the Lakewood area, evidently so she could be near her younger sister, Darcy, who did her daughter’s child care. He’d researched Claire’s family, education, marital status. Divorced for a year with a four-year-old daughter. Her ex, Jason “Jace” Britten, was an international airline co-pilot living in Los Angeles and sometimes Singapore, though he kept an apartment here in Naples. Nick had wanted to move on his plan—on her, but this was sure screwing up his schedule. Claire Fowler Britten might have gotten the best of him in the courtroom, but he had to get the best out of her and soon.