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The Key Trilogy

Nora Roberts

  Nora Roberts

  Hot Ice

  Sacred Sins

  Brazen Virtue

  Sweet Revenge

  Public Secrets

  Genuine Lies

  Carnal Innocence

  Divine Evil

  Honest Illusions

  Private Scandals

  Hidden Riches

  True Betrayals

  Montana Sky



  The Reef

  River’s End

  Carolina Moon

  The Villa

  Midnight Bayou

  Three Fates


  Northern Lights

  Blue Smoke

  Angels Fall

  High Noon


  Black Hills

  The Search

  Chasing Fire



  Born in Fire

  Born in Ice

  Born in Shame


  Daring to Dream

  Holding the Dream

  Finding the Dream


  Sea Swept

  Rising Tides

  Inner Harbor

  Chesapeake Blue


  Jewels of the Sun

  Tears of the Moon

  Heart of the Sea


  Dance Upon the Air

  Heaven and Earth

  Face the Fire


  Key of Light

  Key of Knowledge

  Key of Valor


  Blue Dahlia

  Black Rose

  Red Lily


  Morrigan’s Cross

  Dance of the Gods

  Valley of Silence


  Blood Brothers

  The Hollow

  The Pagan Stone


  Vision in White

  Bed of Roses

  Savor the Moment

  Happy Ever After

  Nora Roberts & J. D. Robb

  Remember When

  J. D. Robb

  Naked in Death

  Glory in Death

  Immortal in Death

  Rapture in Death

  Ceremony in Death

  Vengeance in Death

  Holiday in Death

  Conspiracy in Death

  Loyalty in Death

  Witness in Death

  Judgment in Death

  Betrayal in Death

  Seduction in Death

  Reunion in Death

  Purity in Death

  Portrait in Death

  Imitation in Death

  Divided in Death

  Visions in Death

  Survivor in Death

  Origin in Death

  Memory in Death

  Born in Death

  Innocent in Death

  Creation in Death

  Strangers in Death

  Salvation in Death

  Promises in Death

  Kindred in Death

  Fantasy in Death

  Indulgence in Death

  Treachery in Death


  From the Heart

  A Little Magic

  A Little Fate

  Moon Shadows

  (with Jill Gregory, Ruth Ryan Langan, and Marianne Willman)


  (with Jill Gregory, Ruth Ryan Langan, and Marianne Willman)

  Once Upon a Castle

  Once Upon a Star

  Once Upon a Dream

  Once Upon a Rose

  Once Upon a Kiss

  Once Upon a Midnight

  Silent Night

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

  Out of This World

  (with Laurell K. Hamilton, Susan Krinard, and Maggie Shayne)

  Bump in the Night

  (with Mary Blayney, Ruth Ryan Langan, and Mary Kay McComas)

  Dead of Night

  (with Mary Blayney, Ruth Ryan Langan, and Mary Kay McComas)

  Three in Death

  Suite 606

  (with Mary Blayney, Ruth Ryan Langan, and Mary Kay McComas)

  In Death

  The Lost

  (with Patricia Gaffney, Mary Blayney, and Ruth Ryan Langan)

  The Other Side

  (with Mary Blaney, Patricia Gaffney, Ruth Ryan Langan, and Mary Kay McComas)

  Also available…

  The Official Nora Roberts Companion

  (edited by Denise Little and Laura Hayden)

  Table of Contents

  Key of Light

  Key of Knowledge

  Key of Valor

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either 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.


  A Jove Book / published by arrangement with the author

  All rights reserved.

  Copyright © 2003 by Nora Roberts

  This book may not be reproduced in whole or part, by mimeograph or any other means, without permission. Making or distributing electronic copies of this book constitutes copyright infringement and could subject the infringer to criminal and civil liability.

  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

  ISBN: 1-101-14649-4


  Jove Books first published by The Jove Publishing Group, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc.,

  375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

  JOVE and the “J” design are trademarks belonging to Penguin Putnam Inc.

  Electronic edition: December, 2003

  For Kathy Onorato,

  for being my keeper

  ’Tis to create, and in creating live

  A being more intense, that we endow

  With what form our fancy, gaining as we give

  The life we image.



  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

  Chapter One

  THE storm ripped over the mountains, gushing torrents of rain that struck the ground with the sharp ring of metal on stone. Lightning strikes spat down, angry artillery fire that slammed against the cannon roar of thunder.

  There was a gleeful kind of mean in the air, a sizzle of temper and spite that boiled with power.

  It suited Malory Price’s mood perfectly.

  Hadn’t she asked herself what else could go wrong? Now in answer to that weary, and completely rhetorical, question, nature—in all her maternal wrath—was showing her just how bad things could get.

  There was an ominous rattling somewhere in the dash of her sweet little Mazda, and
she still had nineteen payments to go on it. In order to make those payments, she had to keep her job.

  She hated her job.

  That wasn’t part of the Malory Price Life Plan, which she had begun to outline at the age of eight. Twenty years later, that outline had become a detailed and organized checklist, complete with headings, subheadings, and cross-references. She revised it meticulously on the first day of each year.

  She was supposed to love her job. It said so, quite clearly, under the heading of CAREER.

  She’d worked at The Gallery for seven years, the last three of those as manager, which was right on schedule. And she had loved it—being surrounded by art, having an almost free hand in the displaying, the acquiring, the promotion, and the setup for showings and events.

  The fact was, she’d begun to think of The Gallery as hers, and knew full well that the rest of the staff, the clients, the artists and craftsmen felt very much the same.

  James P. Horace might have owned the smart little gallery, but he never questioned Malory’s decisions, and on his increasingly rare visits he complimented her, always, on the acquisitions, the ambience, the sales.

  It had been perfect, which was exactly what Malory intended her life to be. After all, if it wasn’t perfect, what was the point?

  Everything had changed when James ditched fifty-three years of comfortable bachelorhood and acquired himself a young, sexy wife. A wife, Malory thought with her blue-steel eyes narrowing in resentment, who’d decided to make The Gallery her personal pet.

  It didn’t matter that the new Mrs. Horace knew next to nothing about art, about business, about public relations, or about managing employees. James doted on his Pamela, and Malory’s dream job had become a daily nightmare.

  But she’d been dealing with it, Malory thought as she scowled through her dark, drenched windshield. She had determined her strategy: she would simply wait Pamela out. She would remain calm and self-possessed until this nasty little bump was past and the road smoothed out again.

  Now that excellent strategy was out the window. She’d lost her temper when Pamela countermanded her orders on a display of art glass and turned the perfectly and beautifully organized gallery upside down with clutter and ugly fabrics.

  There were some things she could tolerate, Malory told herself, but being slapped in the face with hideous taste in her own space wasn’t one of them.

  Then again, blowing up at the owner’s wife was not the path to job security. Particularly when the words myopic, plebeian bimbo were employed.

  Lightning split the sky over the rise ahead, and Malory winced as much in memory of her temper as from the flash. A very bad move on her part, which only showed what happened when you gave in to temper and impulse.

  To top it off, she’d spilled latte on Pamela’s Escada suit. But that had been an accident.


  However fond James was of her, Malory knew her livelihood was hanging by a very slim thread. And when the thread broke, she would be sunk. Art galleries weren’t a dime a dozen in a pretty, picturesque town like Pleasant Valley. She would either have to find another area of work as a stopgap or relocate.

  Neither option put a smile on her face.

  She loved Pleasant Valley, loved being surrounded by the mountains of western Pennsylvania. She loved the small-town feel, the mix of quaint and sophisticated that drew the tourists, and the getaway crowds that spilled out of neighboring Pittsburgh for impulsive weekends.

  Even when she was a child growing up in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pleasant Valley was exactly the sort of place she’d imagined living in. She craved the hills, with their shadows and textures, and the tidy streets of a valley town, the simplicity of the pace, the friendliness of neighbors.

  The decision to someday fold herself into the fabric of Pleasant Valley had been made when she was fourteen and spent a long holiday weekend there with her parents.

  Just as she’d decided, when she wandered through The Gallery that long-ago autumn, that she would one day be part of that space.

  Of course, at the time she had thought her paintings would hang there, but that was one item on her checklist that she’d been forced to delete rather than tick off when it was accomplished.

  She would never be an artist. But she had to be, needed to be, involved with and surrounded by art.

  Still, she didn’t want to move back to the city. She wanted to keep her gorgeous, roomy apartment two blocks from The Gallery, with its views of the Appalachians, its creaky old floors, and its walls that she’d covered with carefully selected artwork.

  But the hope of that was looking as dim as the stormy sky.

  So she hadn’t been smart with her money, Malory admitted with a windy sigh. She didn’t see the point of letting it lie in some bank when it could be turned into something lovely to look at or to wear. Until it was used, money was just paper. Malory tended to use a great deal of paper.

  She was overdrawn at the bank. Again. She’d maxed out her credit cards. Ditto. But, she reminded herself, she had a great wardrobe. And the start of a very impressive art collection. Which she would have to sell, piece by piece and most likely at a loss, to keep a roof over her head if Pamela brought the axe down.

  But maybe tonight would buy her some time and goodwill. She hadn’t wanted to attend the cocktail reception at Warrior’s Peak. A fanciful name for a spooky old place, she thought. Another time she would’ve been thrilled at the opportunity to see the inside of the great old house so high on the ridge. And to rub elbows with people who might be patrons of the arts.

  But the invitation had been odd—written in an elegant hand on heavy, stone-colored paper, with a logo of an ornate gold key in lieu of letterhead. Though it was tucked in her evening bag now along with her compact, her lipstick, her cell phone, her glasses, a fresh pen, business cards, and ten dollars, Malory remembered the wording.

  The pleasure of your company is desired for cocktails and conversation

  Eight P.M., September 4

  Warrior’s Peak

  You are the key. The lock awaits.

  Now how weird was that? Malory asked herself, and gritted her teeth as the car shimmied in a sudden gust of wind. The way her luck was going, it was probably a scam for a pyramid scheme.

  The house had been empty for years. She knew it had been purchased recently, but the details were sparse. An outfit called Triad, she recalled. She assumed it was some sort of corporation looking to turn the place into a hotel or a mini resort.

  Which didn’t explain why they’d invited the manager of The Gallery but not the owner and his interfering wife. Pamela had been pretty peeved about the slight—so that was something.

  Still, Malory would have passed on the evening. She didn’t have a date—just another aspect of her life that currently sucked—and driving alone into the mountains to a house straight out of Hollywood horror on the strength of an invitation that made her uneasy wasn’t on her list of fun things to do in the middle of the workweek.

  There hadn’t even been a number or a contact for an R.S.V.P. And that, she felt, was arrogant and rude. Her intended response of ignoring the invitation would have been equally arrogant and rude, but James had spotted the envelope on her desk.

  He’d been so excited, so pleased by the idea of her going, had pressed her to relay all the details of the house’s interior to him. And he’d reminded her that if she could discreetly drop the name of The Gallery into conversation from time to time, it would be good for business.

  If she could score a few clients, it might offset the Escada mishap and the bimbo comment.

  Her car chugged up the narrowing road that cut through the dense, dark forest. She’d always thought of those hills and woods as a kind of Sleepy Hollow effect that ringed her pretty valley. But just now, with the wind and rain and dark, the less serene aspects of that old tale were a little too much in evidence for her peace of mind.

  If whatever was rattling in her dash was serious, she could en
d up broken down on the side of the road, huddled in the car listening to the moans and lashes of the storm and imagining headless horsemen while she waited for a tow truck she couldn’t afford.

  Obviously, the answer was not to break down.

  She thought she caught glimpses of lights beaming through the rain and trees, but her windshield wipers were whipping at the highest speed and were still barely able to shove aside the flood of rain.

  As lightning snapped again, she gripped the wheel tighter. She liked a good hellcat storm as much as anyone, but she wanted to enjoy this one from someplace inside, anyplace, while drinking a nice glass of wine.

  She had to be close. How far could any single road climb before it just had to start falling down the other side of the mountain? She knew Warrior’s Peak stood atop the ridge, guarding the valley below. Or lording itself over the valley, depending on your viewpoint. She hadn’t passed another car for miles.

  Which only proved that anyone with half a brain wasn’t out driving in this mess, she thought.

  The road forked, and the bend on the right streamed between enormous stone pillars. Malory slowed, gawked at the life-size warriors standing on each pillar. Perhaps it was the storm, the night, or her own jittery mood, but they looked more human than stone, with hair flying around their fierce faces, their hands gripping the hilts of their swords. In the shimmer of lightning she could almost see muscles rippling in their arms, over their broad, bare chests.

  She had to fight the temptation to get out of the car for a closer look. But the chill that tripped down her spine as she turned through the open iron gates had her glancing back up at the warriors with as much wariness as appreciation for the skill of the sculptor.

  Then she hit the brakes and fishtailed on the crushed stone of the roadbed. Her heart jammed into her throat as she stared at the stunning buck standing arrogantly a foot in front of the bumper, with the sprawling, eccentric lines of the house behind him.

  For a moment she took the deer for a sculpture as well, though why any sane person would set a sculpture in the center of a driveway was beyond her. Then again, sane didn’t seem to be the operative word for anyone who would choose to live in the house on the ridge.

  But the deer’s eyes gleamed, a sharp sapphire blue in the beam of her headlights, and his head with the great crowning rack turned slightly. Regally, Malory mused, mesmerized. Rain streamed off his coat, and in the next flash of light that coat seemed as white as the moon.