“How do you know we were supposed to be in Paris?”
As the triplex’s Mrs. presented the quite reasonable question to Balz, he found himself totally distracted by what she looked like under that ceiling light. Those breasts of hers were . . . tight-tipped because it was ever so chilly . . . and that thin, ever-so-slightly-see-through silk was almost better than completely naked.
Because it gave a male a job to do. Slowly. With his tongue.
While he made a short film of the two of them together in his head, the Mrs. started talking to him again, her mouth moving, her expression expectant but not alarmed. And courtesy of the images Balz’s mind was conjuring up, all he heard was the Teri Hatcher line from that Seinfeld episode: They’re real and they’re spectacular.
“. . . you?”
“What?” Balz murmured. “I’m sorry, I was distracted.”
“Are you taking that.” The Mrs. pointed to the Cartier jewel case. “In your hand.”
“Yeah,” he said with a nod. “I am.”
“Oh.” Her expression grew remote. “My husband bought that necklace for me a year ago. For our anniversary.”
“You want me to snag something else then?”
After a moment, she shook her head. “No. That’s fine.”
Balz smiled some more. “You think you’re dreaming, don’t you.”
The Mrs. smiled back. “I would be terrified otherwise.”
“I’m not going to hurt you.”
“But you’re a thief, aren’t you?”
“Thieves steal objects.” He tapped the jewel case. “We don’t hurt people.”
“Oh, that’s good.” Her eyes drifted to his mouth. And then continued down across his chest. His abs. They lingered on his hips . . . like she was wondering exactly what was behind his fly and how well he could use it. “That’s really good. Yes.”
“Tell me something, is your husband here?” Balz murmured as he felt his body stir in places that had been woefully underutilized of late.
“No. He’s in Idaho.”
Balz blinked. “Idaho? Is that why you didn’t go to France?”
“Idaho is more important. Even though it’s our anniversary tonight.”
“I can’t fathom that math.”
“He has a company that’s headquartered there. It’s a manufacturing firm. They need a lot of space, and the land value is very reasonable. He has his own plane and they have a runway for him.” Abruptly, her eyes lowered. “But business is not why he’s really going there.”
“Why’s he going?”
“He has . . . a friend. In Idaho.”
“What kind of friend.” When she didn’t elaborate, Balz muttered, “That man is a fool.”
Those pretty dark eyes returned to his own and her hands, graceful and worried, went to the bodice of her nightgown. “Do you think?”
“Think what. That he’s missing out on something? Fuck yeah—” Balz put out his free hand. “’Scuse my French.”
As the Mrs. blushed faintly and looked down again, it was beyond sad that this beautiful woman needed reassurance from a thief. Then again, who better to ascertain value?
“So he’s in Idaho.” Never had Balz liked a state more. “How nice, especially this time of year.”
The Mrs. lifted her eyes. “The weather is awful in the early spring.”
“I disagree. I think the weather is perfect for him.” May the bastard get frostbite on his pecker. “Just like things are better for you here in Caldwell. Much, much… better.”
After a moment, she nodded slowly. “It’s very nice here. This time of year.”
Funny, he reflected, how two strangers could ask and answer things using words that had fuck all to do with what they were really talking about.
“And I think you’re wrong,” Balz said as he popped the lid on the necklace box. “If your husband bought this for you for your anniversary, you should definitely keep it.”
Her eyes went to the jewelry case. In a hard tone, she muttered, “It’s insured. So he’ll get his money back. He always gets his money back.”
“Still, there should be a sentimental attachment to it.” He freed the collar of diamonds from its velvet nest with his pinkie and tossed the case over his shoulder. “Something to make you smile when you wear it.”
“You think so?” she asked.
Balz nodded. “I know so. And I’ll prove it to you.”
“Yes.” He walked over to her. “Right now.”
The scent of her arousal totally got him going. But like his erection needed help considering her body?
Balz unclipped the clasp and then he turned the diamonds around so they faced front and reached across the electric air between them.
“What are you doing?” she whispered.
“I’m putting your husband’s necklace around your neck.” He lowered his lips right next to her ear as he refastened the clasp. “So I can fuck you with it on.”
Her gasp was erotic as hell. “Why . . . why . . . why would you do that?”
Balz eased back. Her heart rate was flickering at her jugular, and as she breathed fast, the silk of her nightgown moved up and down over her nipples. Fuck, he was hungry all of a sudden. Ravenous.
“It takes more than just diamonds to make a woman feel beautiful.” He trailed a fingertip over the skin at the base of her throat, following the necklace’s contours. “It’s something that husband of yours should remember. And since he doesn’t care, I’m going to give you all kinds of memories to go with these cold, icy stones.”
“But I thought you’re stealing this.” She put her hand up, and touched him as he touched her. “I thought you were—”
“Let’s just focus on you for a little while.”
Leaning down, he pressed his lips to the hollow between her collarbones. Then he moved to her sternum, nestling in between her breasts. As she let out a sigh, he felt her fingers dive into his hair, and that was when he moved to where he had wanted to be from the moment he’d seen her.
Balz extended his tongue and licked at one of her nipples, moistening the silk. Inching back, he took a moment to admire his handiwork, the fine barrier disappeared, the nightgown clinging to her delicious flesh. When he blew across her breast, she shivered and her scent got louder in his nose.
“Oh, God, do that again,” she breathed.
“My pleasure, Mrs.”
With that, he scooped her up into his arms . . . and carried her to her stupid-ass husband’s bed.
Seven floors below, homicide detective Erika Saunders stepped off the elevator and looked left and right. She knew where she was going, but it was an old habit. You always checked both ways before you crossed the street. Or walked along a hallway.
Or headed down the aisle.
She really should have minded that last one.
The Commodore was urban luxury living at its finest- or at least that tagline was part of its registered trademark. And from what she’d seen, from the concierge service at the front desk to the views of the bridges over the Hudson to what she’d heard the condos were like, everything was done to the standards of the very best co-ops on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The place even had a fitness facility and a newly added swimming pool, and the hotel corporation that had bought it two years ago and done all the renovations was talking about add-ons like a gourmet restaurant, a spa, and a yoga studio.
Plans, plans, plans.
Ah, but there was a monkey with a wrench, she thought as she started down the runner. At least with attracting new owners.
Wait, was that the saying? Or was it . . . a wrench in the works? No, that wasn’t right, either.
Goddamn, she needed some sleep.
About six doors down, she came up to the uniformed CPD officer standing at attention, and he immediately opened the door for her.
“It’s in the bedroom, Detective.” Like he was a museum docent.
“Thanks, Pellie,” she said as she slipped a pair of flimsy blue booties over her black Merrells.
Inside the condo, her first impression was all iGen new money. There were digital picture frames all over the place, the images showing the same couple in the same cheek-to-loving-cheek, super-happy pose with different Instagram-worthy backdrops: tropical, mountainous, desert, stream. The sofa-and-chair setup was natural fiber, the knobby rug was clearly hand-loomed, and speak of the Downward Dog, a pair of lavender yoga mats were laid out side by side in the open area by the galley kitchen.
Kitchen was nothing special, except for the drug paraphernalia left out on the granite countertop next to a juicer the size of a bathtub and a bowl full of no-doubt-organic fruit.
Looked like the pair were not as faithful to the body-is-my-temple ethos as their social media might suggest.
MDMA was definitely not sold at Whole Foods.
Following quiet voices down a thin hall, she started to smell the rot, and the death bouquet really bloomed as she came up to the open door of the bedroom.
Three or four days, she thought as she snapped on nitrile gloves. Close to a week.
Over on the queen-sized bed, the man and woman from the photographs were laid out naked side by side on their backs, their heads on the pillows, their gray faces angled toward each other. There was extensive blood loss from both, from centralized wounds in their chests, the bedding underneath having soaked up the moisture.
They were holding hands, their loose, unresponsive fingers locked in place by what looked like dental floss around their wrists.
Detective Andy Steuben, who was taking notes by the headboard, looked at Erika. “I don’t have the heart to mention how sad this is.”
Erika rolled her eyes. “We’re good without the commentary. Thanks.”
Striding across to the bodies, she got a good look at the mutilations. Both the man and the woman had had their heart removed, and not in a neat-and-tidy surgical fashion. The cavernous wounds were ragged on the edges, and fragments of bone dotted their abdominals and the bedcovers. It seemed like whoever had done the organ extractions had reached in with their hand and ripped the cardiac muscle out.
Except that was impossible.
“CSI is on the way,” Andy announced.
Erika already knew this, but just as Steuben had a reputation for being a smart-ass, she was the division’s resident cold bitch, and she didn’t feel the need to stoke that gossip by one-upping the guy.
Running her eyes around the room, she noted the bureau had all its doors closed. There was a laptop and camera equipment out on a desk. Wallet and purse was next to them. Bedside table on the left had a silver dish with a bunch of gold jewelry and a heavy watch in it.
Erika rubbed her aching head. “I gotta go make a phone call.”
“You pulling in the feds?” Andy asked.
Erika walked over to the rough wood headboard. Above it, in cursive, a four-letter word had been screwed into the wall.
L O V E.
“This is the third set of victims,” she said grimly. “I think we’ve got a serial killer.”