Excerpt: No Safe Place

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Sheets of lightning trembled against a vermillion sky curtained with rain. Trying to sort out what to do next, Kate went over to the apartment window and looked down onto the writhing tangle of tropical ploubled cityants. A crumbling stone statue stood in the center of the overgrown courtyard; the trio of satyrs chasing a comely nymph through the green, algae-choked water seemed a perfect metaphor for this sin-drenched, tr.

“She couldn’t have committed suicide,” she insisted yet again.

“It’s been twelve years since you’ve seen her.” Nick was leaning against the bedroom doorframe, thumbs hooked in the front pockets of his jeans. “People change.”

“Now there’s a pithy observation.”

Outside the window, the smoky neon sign from the strip club next door flashed pink and green shimmers onto the rain-slick cobblestones below. Inside, the burned wax scent of votive candles in red glass, another vaguely unpleasant odor hung in the stale air.

“Maybe you ought to embroider it onto a pillow.”

“Dubois happen to say anything about you having a smart mouth, chère?”

“Actually, he did.”

Her back was to him, but Kate had no trouble hearing the humor in his voice. To her mind, there was nothing funny about murder.

“Which I took as a compliment because it goes along with my smart head. Unlike Dubois, who undoubtedly found his shield in a box of Cracker Jacks. Dammit, there’s no way, given the condition of this apartment, any cop with half a brain could’ve called this a suicide.”

“So you keep saying.”

“Right. And you might as well get used to hearing it because I’m going to keep saying it until I nail her killer.”

“We nail her killer. Teamwork, remember,” he said as she looked back at him over her shoulder.

“Besides,” Kate insisted, “the furniture shoved against the door is proof she was trying to keep someone out.”

“Wouldn’t be the first working girl to suffer herself some drug-induced paranoia.”

Kate wished she’d been surprised to learn that her twin had grown up to be a prostitute. If only. .

No! She could give into the dark emotions battering away at her and wallow in guilt later. Right now the objective was to put her sister’s killer behind bars. With or without the help of the cops.

“I want her book. If we can get our hands on her client list, we can begin narrowing down the suspects. no safe place 125

“Remy said the cops are lookin’ for that,” he said with exaggerated patience that grated on Kate’s last nerve. “But, being a murder cop yourself, chère–“

“It’s Detective.”

“Being a murder cop yourself, Detective chère, you oughta know police investigations take time to do right.”

Kate snorted. “What you mean is the cops are giving any city hotshots, who may have paid my sister for sex, time to cover their collective asses.”

He sighed heavily. Pushed himself away from the door frame and crossed the room to smooth his big hands over her shoulders.

“Hey, darlin’. This is New Orleans.” His drawled Cajun patois was as rich as whiskey-drenched bread pudding. “Folks have a certain way of doing things here.”

“The Big Easy.”

“That’s what we call it, all right,” he agreed.

“I meant the movie.” She shrugged off his touch. “Dennis Quaid says it to Ellen Barkin.”

He brightened at that, his smile a bold flash of white. “You like that movie, chère?”

“I hate any movie that glamorizes crooked cops.”

He shook his dark head. “You’re a hard woman, Detective Delaney.”

“I’m a murder cop.”

Rational. Logical. Tough-minded. Where others saw shades of gray, she saw black and white. Cops and killers.

Good versus evil.

As a gust of wind rattled the leafy green leaves of the banana tree in the courtyard, Kate sensed a movement just beyond the lacy iron fence. A man, clad all in black, and wearing a brimmed hat that shielded his face, stood on the sidewalk, beneath an oak tree dripping with silvery-green moss.

The tree’s thick, twisted roots had cracked the cobblestone sidewalk; the limbs Tara had crashed through on her fatal fall to the ground clawed at the window, leafy branches scratching against the glass.

“The landlord said other women have been killed in this building.”

“That was before my time.”

Broussard was standing close enough behind her that she could feel the heat emanating from his body, along with musky male sweat and the tang of lemon, which would’ve seemed incongruous on a man who reeked of testosterone, if Kate hadn’t known the cop trick of using lemon shampoo to wash the smell of death out of your hair.

“The way the story goes, a young slave was found in the formal parlor, her dark throat slit from one pretty ear to the other.”

His hands were on her again, long dark fingers massaging the boulder-like knots at the base of her neck.

“Later eight other bodies were discovered buried in the garden. They’d all been raped. Brutalized. And each one had a gad cut into their breasts.”

He paused, waiting for her to ask.

The silence stretched between them, broken only by the sound of the wind, moaning like lost souls outside the window.

Kate blew out a frustrated breath. “So, what the hell is a gad?”

“A protective tattoo designed to protect the wearer from evil spirits. The guy who built this place was a bokor. A priest who specializes in the dark arts, what voodoo practitioners call the left-hand way. They’re not all that common, though we’ve got a handful of ’em living here in the city.”

“Obviously the tattoos weren’t much protection.”

Having grown up with a mother who staged fake séances, Kate didn’t believe in magic, white or black. Or any other woo-woo things that went bump in the night.

He shrugged. “Hard to stop a man with killin’ on his mind.”

She couldn’t argue with that.

“Your sister had one.”

“One what?” The rusty gate squeaked.

“A gad.”

She glanced up at him. “The police report didn’t mention that.”

“It’ll show up in the coroner’s report.”

“Dubois still should’ve put it in.”

“Like you said, Dubois isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer.”

The man was now in the courtyard, staring up at the window. A lightning bolt forked across the sky, illuminating what appeared to be malevolence in eyes blazing like turquoise fire in a midnight dark face.

Kate, who’d always prided herself on her control, tensed.

“What’s wrong?” Broussard’s fingers tightened on her neck.

“That guy in the courtyard.” White spots, like paper-winged moths, danced in front of her eyes. She blinked to clear them away. “He’s –“Gone.

Kate stared down into the thorny tangle of scarlet bougainvillea and night-blooming jasmine. The man had vanished. As quickly and silently as smoke. no safe place 125