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Killjoy

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Published by Ballantine Books on 2018-02-27
Paperback: £7.16
FICTION / Thrillers, FICTION / Romance


When it comes to gripping novels of unrelenting suspense, Julie Garwood is in a class by herself. In the course of her career, she has mastered the art of creating characters who live and breathe in compelling, page-burning stories that never fail to surprise. As her legion of fans can attest, she strikes the perfect balance between excitement and insight, action and heart. Now, in this breathless new novel, Garwood has written her most electrifying thriller to date.

KILLJOY

Avery Delaney has always tried to put the past far behind her. Abandoned by her rapacious, conniving mother when she was only three days old, Avery was raised by her grandmother and beloved aunt Carolyn. Then, when she was eleven, she witnessed her grandmother’s violent death, before Avery herself was shot and left for dead. Miraculously she survived. The man responsible is serving time in a Florida prison. This traumatic experience propels Avery into a life of law and order.

Her razor-sharp mind and ability to gather data and decipher evidence has made Avery an expert crime analyst for the FBI. But soon she will have to use every one of her adroit skills on a case that hits painfully close to home.

Avery’s workaholic aunt, Carolyn Salvetti, is certain her (hopefully soon-to-be ex) husband sent her the gold embossed reservation to the posh Utopia Spa in the mountains of Colorado. At first she is resistant, but then figures it will be a welcome respite from the cutthroat advertising business, not to mention a networking extravaganza. Plus she persuades her niece to join her for the two weeks of luxury and decadence.

But Carolyn never makes it to Utopia. Under false pretenses, she is taken to an isolated retreat by a handsome stranger with a dazzling smile, suave demeanor, and the darkest of motives. His name is Monk, a hired assassin. Now, with scant clues and fewer resources, Avery must track down and save Carolyn—and outmaneuver a brilliant killer who is part of an elaborate plot of madness and lethal vengeance.


(Paperback (Reissue), 2018-02-27)
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ASIN: 0525618848
ISBN: 9780525618843
EAN: 9780525618843

ACTIVITY FROM AROUND THE WEB

Since KILLJOY is my first Julie Garwood novel, I can't say that I'm disappointed with her departure from historical romance. And I don't believe her old fans will be either. This second foray into the romantic mystery genre sees her gathering strength with her contemporary tales and promises to be a smashing success. She has a Sidney Sheldonesque way about her of putting together a page-turning story, with the plot twists popping up right at chapter's end, so you simply cannot put the book down until you're into the next. Well, you know what happens then. Right, another cliffhanger, and you're compelled to read on. Plus, many of her characters are classic: The spoiled villain who flies into a rage when the smallest thing goes wrong; the drunks falling on top of each other in a raggedy heap; a peach of a boss wrapped in a tyrant's clothing; or a bumbling pair of backwoods storekeepers, complete with flannel shirts and gold-capped teeth. Working one's way through the myriad clues turns out to be a great deal of fun, and readers are rewarded with some pretty darned good surprises too.

Ms. Garwood knows well how to build conflict. The bad guys are in no way subtle, bordering on being over-the-edge evil. The good guys sparkle. The clash between them is spectacular. A day spent reading KILLJOY is a day well spent.

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Books by Julie Garwood Fast Track Hotshot Sweet Talk The Ideal Man Sizzle Fire and Ice Shadow Music Shadow Dance Slow Burn Murder List Killjoy Mercy Heartbreaker Ransom Come the Spring The Claybourne Brides The Wedding For the Roses Prince Charming Saving Grace Castles The Secret The Prize The Gift Guardian Angel The Lion's Lady Honor's Splendour Rebellious Desire Gentle Warrior Ballantine Books are available at special discounts for bulk purchases for sales promotions or corporate use. Special editions, including personalized covers, excerpts of existing books, or books with corporate logos, can be created in large quantities for special needs. For more information, contact Premium Sales at (212) 572-'2232 or email specialmarkets@penguinrandomhouse.com.

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Sale of this book without a front cover may be unauthorized. If this book is coverless, it may have been reported to the publisher as 'unsold or destroyed? and neither the author nor the publisher may have received payment for it. Killjoy is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. 2018 Ballantine Books Mass Market Edition Copyright ? 2002 by Julie Garwood All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York. Ballantine Books and the House colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC. Originally published in hardcover in the United States by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, in 2002. ISBN 978-'? 0- 525-''61884-'''? 3 Ebook ISBN 978-'? 0- 345-''45859-''9'? Cover design: Lynn Andreozzi Cover photograph: PeopleImages/Getty Images Printed in the United States of America randomhousebooks.com 9? 8? 7? 6? 5? 4? 3? 2? 1 Ballantine mass market edition: March 2018

For Mary K. Wahlstedt Murphy, my sister and my friend. With your steady strength, your quiet grace, and your wonderful sense of humor, you make the world a better place.

Avery Elizabeth Delaney's mother was a frickin? maniac. Fortunately her mother, Jilly, left for parts unknown just three days after Avery was born. Avery was raised by her grandmother Lola and her aunt Carrie. The three generations of females lived quietly and modestly in a two-'story frame house on 'Barnett Street just two blocks from the city square in Sheldon Beach, Florida. The atmosphere on Barnett Street was vastly different after Jilly left home. The household, which had once been in a constant up'roar, was now peaceful. Carrie even learned to laugh again, and for five wonderful years, life was very nearly idyllic. The previous years with Jilly had taken their toll on Grandma Lola, however. She hadn't become a mother until she was almost old enough to begin the change of life, and she was an old, tired woman now. The day Avery turned five, Lola began having chest pains. She could barely get the icing on the child's birthday cake without having to sit down and rest a spell. Lola didn't tell anyone about her problem, and she didn't

Julie Garwood see her regular doctor in Sheldon Beach because she didn't trust him to keep quiet about his findings. He might just take it upon himself to tell Carrie about her illness. She made an appointment with a cardiologist in Savannah and drove all the way there to see him. After giving her a complete physical, his diagnosis was grim. He prescribed medication that would ease the pain and help her heart, told her she had to slow down, and also, as gently as he could, suggested that she get her affairs in order. Lola disregarded his advice. What did that quack of a doctor know about anything? She may have one foot in the grave but, by God, she was going to keep the other firmly planted on the ground. She had a granddaughter to raise, and she wasn't going anywhere until she got the job done. Lola was an expert at pretending everything was fine. She'd perfected the art during the turbulent years trying to control Jilly. By the time she got home from Savannah, she had convinced herself that she was as healthy as an ox. And that was that. Grandma Lola refused to talk about Jilly, but Avery wanted to know everything she could about the woman. Whenever she asked a question about her mother, her grand? mother would pucker her lips and always answer the same way. 'We wish her well. We wish her well away.' Then, before Avery could try again, her grandmother would change the subject. And that, of course, wasn't a satisfactory answer, especially for a curious five-'year-'old. The only way Avery could find out anything about her mother was to ask her aunt. Carrie loved to talk about Jilly, and she never forgot a single one of the bad things her sister had ever done, which, as it turned out, added up to a considerable number. Avery idolized her aunt. She thought she was the most beautiful woman in the whole world, and she wished more

KILLJOY 3 than anything that she looked like her instead of her no-? good mama. Carrie had hair the exact color of Grandma's homemade peach jam and eyes more gray than blue, like the furry white cat Avery had seen colored pictures of in one of her story'books. Carrie was constantly on a diet to lose twenty pounds, but Avery thought she was perfect just the way she was. At five feet six inches, Carrie was tall and glamorous, and when she put on one of her glittery barrettes to keep her hair out of her eyes while she was studying or working around the house, she looked just like a princess. Avery loved the way her aunt smelled too, like gardenias. Carrie told Avery it was her signature fragrance, which Avery knew had to be special. When Carrie was away from home and Avery was feeling lonely, she would sneak into her bedroom and squirt some of the special perfume on her arms and legs and pretend her aunt was there in the next room. What Avery loved most about Carrie, though, was that she talked to her like she was a big person. She didn't treat her like a baby the way Grandma Lola did. When Carrie spoke about Avery's no-'good mama, Jilly, she always began by saying in her no-''nonsense tone of voice, 'I'm not going to sugarcoat the truth just because you're little. You've got a right to know.' One week before Carrie moved to California, Avery went into her bedroom to help her pack. She kept getting in the way, and when Carrie had had enough, she sat her niece down at her vanity table and placed a shoe box filled with cheap costume jewelry in front of her. She'd collected the baubles at neighborhood garage sales as a present to give to Avery before she left. The little girl was thrilled with the sparkling treasures and immediately began to primp in front of the oval mirror.

Julie Garwood 'How come you got to go all the way to California, Carrie? You're supposed to stay home with Grandma and me.' Carrie laughed. 'I'm 'supposed to''? 'That's what Peyton says her mama says. Peyton says her mama says you already went to college and now you're supposed to stay home and help take care of me 'cause I'm a handful.' Peyton was Avery's best friend, and because she was a year older, Avery believed everything she said. In Carrie's opinion, Peyton's mother, Harriet, was a busybody, but she was nice to Avery, and so Carrie put up with her occasionally butting into family business. After folding her favorite, baby blue, angora sweater and placing it inside the suitcase, Carrie once again tried to explain why she was leaving. 'I've gotten that grant, remember? I'm going to get my master's, and I know I already explained at least five times why the extra schooling is important. I have to go, Avery. It's a wonderful opportunity for me, and after I've started my own company and I've become rich and famous, then you and Grandma will come and live with me. We'll have a big house in Beverly Hills with servants and a swimming pool.' 'But then I can't take my piano lessons, and Mrs. Burns says I have to 'cause I've got ears.' Since her niece sounded so serious, Carrie didn't dare laugh. 'She said you've got the ear, and that means that if you practice, you could be good, but you can take piano lessons in California. You could take karate lessons there too.' 'But I like taking karate here. Sammy says I'm getting stronger with my kicking, but you know what, Carrie? I heard Grandma tell Peyton's mama she doesn't like me taking karate. She says it isn't ladylike.'

KILLJOY 5 'Too bad,' Carrie said. 'I'm paying for the lessons, and I want you to grow up knowing how to defend yourself.' 'But how come'? Avery asked. 'Peyton's mama asked Grandma how come too.' 'Because I don't want anyone to be able to push you around the way Jilly used to push me,' she said. 'You're not going to grow up being afraid. And I'm sure there are wonderful self-''defense schools in California with teachers just as nice as Sammy.' 'Peyton's mama says that Grandma said Jilly went away to be a movie star. Do you want to be a movie star too, ? Carrie'? 'No, I want to build a company and make tons of money. I'll make other people stars.' Avery turned back to the mirror and clipped on a pair of fat green rhinestone earrings. Then she untangled the matching necklace and put it around her neck. 'You know what else Peyton said'? She didn't wait for a reply. 'She says her mama says when Jilly had me, she was old enough to know better.' 'That's right,' Carrie answered. She pulled out her sock drawer, dumped the contents on the bed, and began to match the pairs. 'Jilly was eighteen.' 'But what did Peyton's mama mean? How come she should know better'? 'She meant that Jilly should have taken precautions.' The drawer fell on the floor. Carrie picked it up and slid it into the dresser, then went back to the chore of sorting through the pile of socks. 'But what does that mean'? Avery asked. She was making faces at herself in the mirror as she put on the second necklace. Carrie ignored the question. She didn't want to get into a long-'winded discussion about sex and birth control.

Julie Garwood Avery was too young to hear about all that now. Hoping to turn her niece's attention, she said, 'You know, you're very lucky.' '? 'Cause I have you and Grandma to look after me 'cause I'm a handful'? 'That's right,' she agreed. 'But you're also lucky because Jilly wasn't drinking like a fish or taking feel-'good pills by the fistful when she was carrying you. If she had put all that garbage inside her, you would have been born with serious problems.' 'Peyton says her mama says I'm lucky I got borned at all.' Exasperated, Carrie said, 'Peyton's mother sure likes to talk about Jilly, doesn't she'? 'Uh-'huh,' she said. 'Are 'feel-'good pills? bad'? 'Yes, they are,' Carrie said. 'They'll kill you.' 'Then how come people take them'? 'Because they're stupid. Put that jewelry away and come sit on this suitcase so I can get it closed.' Avery carefully put the earrings and the necklaces back in the shoe box. She climbed up on the canopy bed. 'Can I have this'? she asked as she picked up a small book with a blue vinyl cover. 'No, you can't. That's my diary,' Carrie answered. She snatched the book from Avery's hand and tucked it into one of the side pockets. She closed the suitcase and Avery scooted on top. Leaning on it with all her weight, Carrie finally got the latches to lock. She was helping Avery off the bed when her niece asked, 'How come you're packing now and not next week? Grandma says you're doing it backwards.' 'Packing before I paint the room for you isn't backwards. This way, my things will be out of the way, and we can get you all set up in your new room before I leave. To-

KILLJOY 7 morrow, you and I will go to the paint store and pick out the color.' 'I know. You already told me I could pick the color. Carrie'? 'Yes'? she asked as she set the suitcase by the door. 'Did my no-'good mama hate me when she saw me'? Carrie turned around, saw the worry in Avery's eyes, and was instantly furious. Even though Jilly wasn't there, she was still causing pain. Would it never end? Carrie remembered, as though it had happened yesterday, the night she found out her sister was going to have a baby. Jilly had graduated from high school on a balmy Friday evening in May. She then came home and ruined the celebration by announcing that she was almost six months pregnant. She was just barely showing. Reeling from the shock, Lola at first thought about the embarrassment and shame the family would have to endure, then came to her senses. 'We're a family,' she said. 'We'll work this out. We'll figure a way to get through this. Isn't that right, Carrie'? Standing at the dining room table, Carrie picked up the knife and cut herself a piece of the sheet cake Lola had spent all morning decorating. 'In this day and age you've got to be really dumb to get pregnant. Haven't you ever heard of birth control, Jilly, or are you a complete moron'? Jilly was leaning against the wall, her arms folded, glaring at Carrie. Lola, hoping to avoid a screaming match between the two daughters, hastily interjected, 'There isn't any need to be snide, Carrie. We don't want to get Jilly upset.' 'You mean you don't want to get her upset,' Carrie corrected. 'Carrie, you will not take that tone with me.'

Julie Garwood Contrite, she bowed her head and scooped the piece of cake onto a plate. 'Yes, ma'am.' 'I did think about birth control,' Jilly snapped. 'I went to the doctor over in Jacksonville to get rid of it, but he refused to do it because he said I was too far along.' Lola slumped into a chair and covered her face with one hand. 'You went to a doctor? .' .' .' Jilly had already lost interest in the subject. She went into the living room, plopped down on the sofa, grabbed the channel changer, and turned on the tele'vision. 'She causes the trauma and then she walks away,' Carrie muttered. 'Leaving us to clean up the mess. How typical.' 'Don't start, Carrie,' Lola pleaded. She rubbed her brow as though to ease a headache and then said, 'Jilly just doesn't always take the time to think things through.' 'Why should she? She has you to clean up her mistakes. You've let her get away with everything but murder just because you can't stand her fits. I think you're afraid of her.' 'That's ridiculous,' Lola blustered. She got up from the table and went into the kitchen to do the dishes. 'We're a family and we're going to get through this,' she called out. 'And you're going to help, Carrie. Your sister needs our moral support.' Carrie clenched her fists in frustration. What was it going to take to get her mother to open her eyes and see the selfish bitch she'd raised? Why wouldn't she see the truth? The rest of that summer was an awful memory. Jilly was her usual demanding nightmare, and their mother was run ragged waiting on her hand and foot. Fortunately, Carrie had a summer job at Sammy's Bar and Grille, and she did her best to get as much overtime as possible so she wouldn't have to go home. Jilly went into labor at the end of August. After she gave birth in the county hospital, she took one look at the

KILLJOY 9 squirming, blotchy-faced ? infant who had caused her so much pain and decided that she didn't want to be a mother. Not now, not ever. If the doctors had agreed, she would have had her uterus yanked out or her tubes tied that very day. Lola dragged Carrie to the hospital to see her sister. They hadn't even walked into the room before Jilly announced that she was too young and pretty to be saddled with a baby. There was a big world outside of Sheldon Beach, Florida, just waiting to pay her some attention, but no man with any money would ever notice her if she was lugging a baby around on her hip. No, motherhood wasn't for her. Besides, she had her heart set on becoming a famous movie star. She would get her start by being crowned Miss America. She had it all figured out, she told them. Boasting that she was much prettier than those cows she had seen on television last year marching around the stage in their swimsuits, she was positive that, as soon as the judges got a good look at her, they would give her the crown. 'God, you're ignorant,' Carrie muttered. 'They don't give the crown to girls who have had babies.' 'You're the ignorant one, Carrie.' 'Hush, you two,' Lola ordered. 'Do you want the nurses to hear you'? 'I don't care if they hear me or not,' Jilly said. 'I told you to hush,' Lola snapped. 'Use your head, Jilly. You're a mother now.' 'I don't want to be a mother. I want to be a star,' Jilly screamed. Mortified, Lola pulled Carrie into the room and told her to shut the door. Gripping the potted plant she'd brought Jilly in one hand, Lola held on to Carrie's arm with the other so she wouldn't bolt.

10 Julie Garwood Carrie was annoyed that she was being forced to be supportive. She leaned against the door and glared at her sister. 'Now, Jilly, I don't care what you want,' Lola said in a low, furious whisper. Her mother didn't usually use that tone with Jilly. Carrie perked up and began to pay attention to the conversation. 'You're going to be responsible,' Lola said. Her voice turned earnest as she moved toward the bed. 'You will be a good mother, and Carrie and I will help you raise the baby. It will all work out. You'll see. I do think you should call the baby's father''? Jilly's laugh stopped her. 'What's so funny'? 'You,' Jilly replied. 'You've got my life all mapped out, don't you? Always trying to make me behave and act the way you think I should act. Really, Mother. I'm a grown-'up now. I'm eighteen,' she reminded her. 'And I'll do whatever I want to do.' 'But, Jilly, the father has a right to know he has a daughter.' Fluffing her pillow behind her head, Jilly yawned loudly. 'I don't know who the father is. It could be the college boy from Savannah, but I can't be sure.' Lola let go of Carrie. 'What do you mean, you can't be sure? You told me''? 'I lied. You want me to tell you the truth? Fine, I will. The father could have been a dozen other men.' Lola shook her head. She refused to believe her daughter. 'Stop talking like that. Tell me the truth.' Carrie's head came up. 'Oh, my God, Jilly.' Jilly loved shocking people and being the center of attention. 'I am telling the truth. I really have lost count of the men I've been with. I couldn't possibly know who the father might be.' She saw the disgust on her mother's face.

KILLJOY 11 'Have I upset you'? Jilly asked, inordinately pleased by the possibility. 'Men love me,' she boasted. 'They'll do anything I want just to please me. They give me expensive gifts and cash too, which I've had to hide from you and 'Carrie so you wouldn't get jealous and act like you are now, so holier than everybody else. You would have taken the money and the jewelry away from me, wouldn't you? Only, I wouldn't give you the chance. I'm smarter than you think, Mother.' Lola closed her eyes, battling the waves of nausea. 'How many men have there been'? 'How would I know? Weren't you listening? I just told you I lost count. All I had to do was let them use my body for a little while. They adore me and I let them. I'm much more beautiful than all the actresses in Hollywood put together, and I'm going to be more famous. You just wait and see. Besides, I like sex. It feels good when they do it just right. You just don't understand the modern woman. You're old, Mother, and all dried up inside. You probably don't remember what sex is.' 'Taking money for sex? Do you know what that makes you'? 'Liberated,' Jilly snarled. Carrie stepped away from the door. 'No, it doesn't. It makes you a dirty little whore, Jilly. That's all you'll ever be.' 'You don't know what you're talking about,' Jilly shouted. 'Men don't want you the way they want me. I can drive them crazy, and they don't give you the time of day. I am liberated and you're just jealous.' 'Come on, Mother. Let's leave.' Carrie touched her mother's shoulder. Turning her head into the pillow, Jilly muttered, 'Yes, leave. I'm sleepy now. Go away and let me rest.' Carrie had to help Lola to the car. She had never seen her mother so distraught, and it scared her.

12 Julie Garwood As they drove away from the hospital, Lola stared blankly out the window. 'You've always known what she was like, and you tried to tell me, but I wouldn't listen to you. I've been living in a fog, haven't I'? Carrie nodded. 'Something's wrong with Jilly. The mean streak inside of her goes beyond? .' .' .' it isn't normal.' 'Did I do that to her'? Lola asked, sounding bewildered. 'Your father spoiled her, and after he left us, I spoiled her too so she wouldn't feel abandoned. Did I make her the monster she's become'? 'I don't know.' Neither one of them said another word until they reached home. Carrie pulled the car into the driveway, parked it in front of the garage, and turned the motor off. She was opening the door when Lola grabbed her arm. 'I'm so sorry for the way I've treated you.' She began to weep then. 'You're such a good girl, and I've taken you for granted all these years. Our lives have revolved around Jilly, haven't they? It seems I've spent the better part of her eighteen years keeping her calm? .' .' .' happy. I just want you to know that I'm proud of you. I've never told you so, have I? I guess it took this nightmare to make me realize what a treasure you are. I love you, Carrie.' Carrie didn't know how to respond. She couldn't remember if or when her mother had ever told her she loved her before. She felt as though she'd just won some kind of a contest, but by default. The golden child was tarnished, and because she was the only one left, she got the prize. It wasn't enough. 'What are you going to do about Jilly'? she asked. 'I'm going to make her do the right thing, of course.' Carrie pulled away. 'You still don't get it. She won't do the right thing. Maybe she can't. I don't know. She's sick, Mother.'

KILLJOY 13 Lola shook her head. 'She's spoiled, but I can work on''? Carrie stopped her. 'You're still living in dreamland,' she muttered. She slammed the door when she got out of the car and went into the house. Lola followed her into the kitchen, took an apron from the wooden peg on the wall, and tied it around her waist. 'Do you remember what happened on my eighth birthday'? Carrie asked as she pulled a chair from the kitchen table and dropped into it. Hoping to avoid the unpleasant remembrance, Lola didn't turn around. 'Not now, dear. Why don't you set the table and I'll start dinner.' 'You gave me that Barbie doll I wanted.' 'Carrie, I don't want to talk about this now.' 'Sit down. We need to discuss this.' 'It happened a long time ago. Why do you need to go over it again'? Carrie wasn't going to back down this time. 'I came into your bedroom that night.' 'Carrie, I don't''? 'Sit down, damn it. You can't keep living this way. You have to face the facts. Sit, Mother.' She wanted to grab her by the shoulders and shake some sense into her. Lola gave in. She took the chair across from her daughter, and primly folded her hands in her lap. 'I remember your father was very upset by your accusations,' she said. 'And Jilly was crying. You woke the whole household that night carrying on.' 'She wanted my doll,' Carrie said. 'When I wouldn't give it to her, she told me she was going to cut my eyes out with scissors. I woke up around midnight and she was standing over me with your shears in her hand. She had this sick smile on her face. She was opening and closing the scis-

14 Julie Garwood sors making this horrible clicking sound. Then she held up my new Barbie doll and I saw what she'd done to it. She'd stabbed the eyes out, Mother, and that smile on her face? .' .' . it was so awful. As I was about to scream, she leaned down and whispered, 'Now it's your turn.'? ? 'You were too young to remember exactly what happened. You've blown this little incident way out of proportion.' 'Oh, no, I haven't,' she said. 'That's exactly how it happened. You didn't see the look in her eyes, but I'm telling you she wanted to kill me. If I had been alone in the house with her, she would have done exactly what she wanted to do.' 'No, no, she was just trying to scare you,' Lola insisted. 'She never would have hurt you. Jilly loves you.' 'If you and Dad hadn't been there, she would have hurt me. She's crazy, Mother. I don't care what happens to her, but there's an innocent baby now.' She took a deep breath, and then blurted out, 'I think we should encourage Jilly to give the baby up for adoption.' Lola was outraged by the suggestion. 'Absolutely not,' she said, and slammed her hand down on the table. 'That baby is your niece and my granddaughter, and I'm not going to let strangers raise her.' 'It's her only hope for a decent future,' Carrie argued. 'She's already got one huge strike against her with Jilly as her mother. I only hope whatever is broken inside of Jilly isn't genetic.' 'Oh, for heaven's sake. The only thing wrong with Jilly is that she's used to getting her way. Lots of young women are fooling around with men these days. It's wrong,' she hastily added, 'but I understand why Jilly wanted men to love her. Her father left her, and she's been trying to''? 'Will you listen to yourself'? Carrie shouted. 'For a lit-

KILLJOY 15 tle while, I thought you were finally seeing what Jilly was, but I guess I was wrong. You're never going to open your eyes. You asked me if you had made her the monster she's become, remember'? 'I meant to say that her behavior was monstrous, but Jilly's a mother now. When I go back to the hospital to bring her and the baby home, you'll see. She'll be all right.' It was like talking to a brick wall. 'You think the maternal instincts are going to kick in'? 'Yes, I do,' Lola said. 'You'll see,' she repeated. 'Jilly will want to do the right thing.' Carrie gave up. Sickened, she went to her room and stayed there the rest of the night. When she came down the following morning, there was a note on the kitchen table. Her mother had gone to Sears to purchase a crib, baby clothes, and an infant car seat. 'Dreamland,' Carrie muttered. On Monday morning, Lola went to the hospital to bring Jilly and the still unnamed baby home. Carrie refused to go with her mother. She told her she had to work an early shift at Sammy's and left the house before Lola could question her. Jilly was waiting for her mother. She was dressed and standing in front of the bathroom mirror brushing her hair. She waved her hand toward the screaming infant she'd dropped in the middle of the unmade bed seconds after the nurse had left the room and told Lola she could either keep her, sell her, or give her away''she didn't much care what she did with her. She then picked up her overnight bag and walked out of the hospital with the money she'd stolen from her sister's college fund tucked into her bra. The withdrawal didn't appear on the bank statement until two weeks later. Carrie was outraged. She'd worked hard to save the money, and she was determined to get it

16 Julie Garwood back. She tried to report the theft to the police, but Lola wouldn't let her. 'Family business stays in the family,' she decreed. Carrie graduated from high school the following spring and worked two jobs that summer. Lola used some of her savings to help with Carrie's college tuition, and Carrie found part-'time work on campus to help with expenses. When she came home for Christmas break, she could barely look at Jilly's baby. However, Avery wasn't the kind of child who put up with being ignored. It only took a couple of drooling smiles, and Carrie was smiling back. Each time she returned home, the bond grew stronger. The child adored her, and the feeling, though never openly stated, was reciprocated. Avery was the sweetest, most intelligent little girl, and Carrie in every way possible had become her substitute mother. She certainly had all the protective instincts of a mother. She would do anything to keep Avery safe. Yet here they were, five years later, and Jilly was still able to cause the family pain. 'Did she, Carrie? Did she hate me'? Carrie forced herself to concentrate on the child's question. Planting her hands on her hips, she took a deep breath and then asked, 'What do you care what Jilly thought about you'? Avery lifted her shoulders. 'I don't know.' 'Now, you listen to me. Your no-'good mama probably did hate you, but not because of who you are or what you looked like when you were born. You were a perfect baby. Jilly just didn't want responsibility.' She pointed to the chair adjacent to the bed. 'I'm going to tell you something important, and I want you to pay attention, so sit down.' Avery hurried to do as she was told.

KILLJOY 17 'You're probably too young to hear this, but I'm going to tell you anyway. Your mother's a frickin? maniac.' Avery was disappointed. She thought she was going to hear something new. 'You already told me that, Carrie. Lots of times.' 'That was just another reminder,' she said. 'Jilly has never been normal. Fact is, she should have been locked up in a loony bin a long time ago.' Avery was intrigued by the thought of her mother being locked away. 'What's a loony bin'? 'It's a place where sick people go.' 'Is Jilly sick'? 'Yes,' she answered. 'But not the kind of sick where we feel sorry for her. She's mean and hate'ful and just plain crazy. She'd have to be crazy to walk away from someone as wonderful as you,' 'Carrie added. Leaning forward, she brushed the hair out of Avery's eyes. 'Your mother grew up with something important missing from inside her head. She might not be a pure sociopath, but she's damn close.' Avery's eyes widened. In a hushed voice she said, 'Carrie, you just said 'damn.'? ? 'I know what I said, and I know what I'm talking about.' Avery got out of her chair and went to sit beside Carrie on the bed. She latched on to her hand and said, 'But I don't know what you're talking about.' 'I'm going to explain. A sociopath is a person who doesn't have a conscience, and before you ask, I'll tell you what a conscience is. That's what's inside your head that tells you when you've done something wrong. Your conscience makes you feel? .' .' .' bad.' 'Like when I told Grandma I already practiced on the piano, but I didn't, and then she told me I was a good girl, but I wasn't 'cause I lied, and then I felt bad''

18 Julie Garwood 'Yes, just like that,' she said. 'Your mother doesn't have any heart or soul, and that's the truth.' 'Like the song you like to sing? Is it that kind of heart and soul'? 'Yes, just like the song,' Carrie assured her. 'Jilly doesn't have room in her heart to feel any emotion that doesn't directly involve or benefit her.' Avery was leaning into her side, looking up at her with those wonderful violet blue eyes that were so much more beautiful than her mother's. Carrie could almost see the purity and goodness behind them. 'Jilly's too busy loving herself to love anyone else, but you can't waste your time feeling bad about that. None of it is your fault. You believe me, don't you'? Avery solemnly nodded. 'It's my no-'good mama's fault, all right.' Carrie smiled. 'That's right.' 'Do I have a soul'? 'Yes, you do. Everyone but your no-'good mama has a soul.' 'Before Jilly hurt Whiskers and made him die, did he have a soul'? 'Maybe,' she allowed, thinking of the kitten Jilly had cruelly taken from her. 'Where is it'? 'Your soul'? Carrie had to think about the question for a few seconds before answering. 'It's inside you, wrapped around your heart. Your soul is as pure as an angel's, and I mean to help you keep it that way. You're nothing like Jilly, Avery.' 'But I look like her. You said so.' 'It's not what you look like that's important. It's what's inside you that matters.' 'Does Jilly love you and Grandma and just not me''

KILLJOY 19 Carrie was exasperated. 'I thought you understood what I was telling you. Jilly doesn't love anyone but herself. She doesn't love Grandma, she doesn't love me, and she doesn't love you. Now do you understand'? Avery nodded. 'Can I play with the jewelry now, Carrie'? Carrie smiled. The child, it seemed, had moved on to more important matters. She watched her sit at the vanity and begin to dig through the box again. 'You know what's the best thing that ever happened to you'? Avery didn't look around when she answered. 'Having you for my aunt Carrie.' 'Is that what you think is the best thing'? she asked, surprised and pleased. 'How come'? '? 'Cause that's what you told me is the best thing.' Carrie laughed. 'Yeah, well, there's something even better.' 'What'? 'You aren't growing up afraid all the time the way I was. Jilly's never going to come back. You won't ever have to see her? .' .' .' not ever. That's definitely the best thing.' A shiver ran down Carrie's back the second the words were out of her mouth. Was she tempting fate by making such a boast? Could one summon up a demon simply by proclaiming that it didn't exist? The chill felt like a premonition. But of course it wasn't. She was just a worrier, that was all. Shaking off her grim feeling, she went back to work. The following week was busy. Avery chose pink for her walls, and Carrie added white trim. She thought the bedroom looked like an explosion of Pepto-''Bismol, but Avery loved it. She was all settled in the big front bedroom by Sunday afternoon. Carrie's suitcases had been packed in the trunk of the car. Carrie was going to sleep in Avery's old

20 Julie Garwood bedroom on the grossly uncomfortable daybed her last night. They had all of Carrie's favorite foods for dinner that night''forbidden food on her perpetual diet''fried chicken, mashed 'potatoes and gravy, and green beans simmering in bacon fat. Lola had made a fresh salad, using the vegetables she'd grown in her backyard, but Carrie barely touched it. Since she'd already decided to take a day off from her diet''one wonderful, guilt-'free day''she ate two helpings of everything else with unbridled gusto. After Grandma Lola had read Avery a story and tucked her into bed, Carrie went in to kiss her good night. She turned on the nightlight, shut the bedroom door, and then went back downstairs to put some last-'minute paperwork in her carry-'on. One task led to another, and she didn't get back upstairs until after eleven. Lola was already asleep in her room at the back of the house. Carrie checked on Avery''oh, how she was going to miss the pip-'squeak''and she almost burst into laughter when she spotted her niece in the big bed. The child was wearing at least five necklaces and four bracelets. The tarnished tiara with most of its glass diamonds missing was tangled in strands of her hair and tilted to the side of her head. She was sleeping on her back clutching a worn-'out teddy bear in her arm. Carrie sat down on the bed and tried not to disturb her niece as she gently removed the jewelry. After she put the trinkets back in the box, she walked quietly to the door. She was pulling it closed when Avery whispered, 'Good night, Carrie.' She'd already closed her eyes by the time Carrie turned around to look at her. In the soft glow from the streetlight the little girl looked like a cherub. 'Carrie didn't think she could love her any more if she were her very own child. The

KILLJOY 21 instinct to protect was overwhelming. She hated the thought of going away, felt as though she were abandoning her. She had to leave, she reminded herself. Avery's future depended on her. When she was financially secure, she would be able to support her mother and her niece in the style she felt they both deserved. Guilt was a powerful deterrent, but Carrie wasn't about to let it interfere with her plans. She had her goals and her dreams, and Avery and Lola were tied to both. 'I'm doing the right thing,' she whispered as she walked down the hall to the bathroom. She was still trying to convince herself when she stepped into the shower. Carrie had just turned on the water full blast when the slamming of the car doors awakened Avery. She heard a deep laugh and got out of bed to see who was making the noise. She saw a man and a woman. They were standing by the side of an old, beat-'up car, their heads together, laughing and talking. The woman had golden hair. The man was as dark as she was fair. He had something in his hand. Avery peeked around the side of the window so they wouldn't see her and maybe shout at her to stop being nosy. The man raised a bottle and took a big drink. Then he offered the bottle to the woman, and she tilted her head back and took a drink too. What were they doing in front of Grandma's house? Avery got down on her knees and hid behind the lace curtains. She ducked when the woman turned and started up the sidewalk. The mean-'looking man didn't follow her. He leaned against the fender of the car, one ankle crossed over the other. He took another drink, then threw the empty bottle into the street. The sound of the glass shattering was almost as loud as Avery's gasp. It was bad to litter. Grandma Lola told her so.

22 Julie Garwood The man wasn't looking at the house. He was watching the street, so Avery thought it was safe to straighten up and get a better look. She saw something sticking out of his back pocket when he turned toward the car. What was it? Maybe another bottle? The mean-'looking man wearing the dirty T-'shirt must be awful thirsty 'cause he reached behind and pulled the bottle out. Only it wasn't a bottle after all. She gasped again. The bad man was holding a shiny black gun. Just like the kind she'd seen on television. She was too excited to be scared. Just wait until she told Peyton what she was seeing. Should she wake up Grandma and Carrie and tell them about the gun? Maybe they'd call Officer Friendly at the police station and then he would come and take the bad man away. Avery jumped when the banging started at the front door. It was the lady, she thought, calling on Grandma in the middle of the night. The lady was shouting terrible bad words. Avery ran back to bed and hid under the covers in case her grandmother checked on her before she went downstairs to tell the lady to stop making so much noise. She knew what her grandma would say to the woman. 'Are you trying to wake the dead'? That's what she'd say, all right. It was the same thing she always said to Carrie when she had the television or the stereo up too loud. But if Grandma looked in and saw that Avery was out of bed before she went downstairs, then Avery would never know what was going on. Sometimes you had to do bad things to find out anything important. Peyton had told her that it wasn't awful bad to listen to other people talking as long as you didn't ever tell anyone what you heard. The banging turned into pounding as the lady demanded that Grandma let her in.

KILLJOY 23 Grandma opened the door, and Avery heard the lady shouting some more. She understood every word she said. Avery suddenly wasn't curious any longer. She was terrified. Throwing the sheet off and jumping to the floor, she dropped to her belly and crawled underneath the bed. She scooted up to the headboard and rolled into a ball with her knees tucked under her chin. She was a big girl, too big to cry. The tears streaming down her cheeks were just there because she was squeezing her eyes shut so tight. She cupped her hands over her ears to block out the terrible yelling. Avery knew who the bad lady was. She was her no-'good mama, Jilly, and she had come back to take her away.

Chapter 1 The wait was making Avery crazy. She sat in her little square cubicle, her back against the wall, one leg crossed over the other, drumming her fingertips against the desktop with one hand and holding an icepack against her wounded knee with the other. What was taking so long? Why hadn't Andrews called? She stared hard at the phone, willing it to ring. Nothing. Not a sound. Turning in her swivel chair, she checked the digital clock for the hundredth time. It was now 10:05, same as it was ten seconds ago. For Pete's sake, she should have heard something by now. Mel Gibson stood up and leaned over the partition separating his workspace from Avery's and gave her a sympathetic look. That was his honest-'to-'goodness, real name, but Mel thought it was holding him back because no one in the law enforcement agency would ever take him seriously. Yet, he refused to have it legally changed to 'Brad Pitt,' as his supportive coworkers had suggested. 'Hi, Brad,' Avery said. She and the others were still trying out the new name to see if it fit. Last week it was 'George Clooney,' and that name got about the same reaction 'Brad? was getting now, a glare and a reminder that

26 Julie Garwood his name wasn't 'George,' it wasn't 'Brad,' and it wasn't 'Mel.' It was 'Melvin.' 'You probably should have heard by now,' he said. She refused to let him rile her. Tall, geeky-'looking, with an 'extremely prominent Adam's apple, Mel had the annoying habit of using his third finger to push his thick wire-? rimmed glasses back up on his ski nose. Margo, another coworker, told Avery that Mel did it on purpose. It was his way of letting the other three know how superior he felt he was. Avery disagreed. Mel wouldn't do anything improper. He lived by a code of ethics he believed personified the FBI. He was dedicated, responsible, hardworking, ambitious, and he dressed for the job he wanted? .' .' .' with one little glitch. Although he was only twenty-'seven years old, his clothing resembled the attire agents wore back in the fifties. Black suits, white long-'sleeved shirts with button-? down collars, skinny black ties, black wingtip shoes with a perfect shine, and a crew cut she knew he got trimmed once every two weeks. For all of his strange habits'? he could quote any line from The FBI Story, starring Jimmy Stewart''he had an incredibly sharp mind and was the ultimate team player. He just needed to lighten up a bit. That was all. 'I mean, don't you think you should have heard by now'? He sounded as worried as she felt. 'It's still early.' Then, less than five seconds later, she said, 'You're right. We should have heard by now.' 'No,' he corrected. 'I said that you should have heard. Lou and Margo and I didn't have anything to do with your decision to call in the SWAT team.' Oh, God, what had she been thinking? 'In other words, you don't want to take the flak if I'm wrong'? 'Not flak,' he said. 'The fall. I need this job. It's the

KILLJOY 27 closest I'm going to get to being an agent. With my eyesight? .' .' .' 'I know, Mel.' 'Melvin,' he automatically corrected. 'And the benefits are great.' Margo stood so she could join the conversation. 'The pay sucks, though.' Mel shrugged. 'So does the work environment,' he said. 'But still? .' .' .' it's the FBI.' 'What's wrong with our work environment'? Lou asked as he too stood. His workstation was on Avery's left. Mel's was directly in front of hers, and Margo's cubicle was adjacent to Lou's. The pen''as they lovingly called their hellhole office space''was located behind the mechanical room with its noisy water heaters and compressors. 'I mean, really, what's wrong with it'? he asked again, sounding bewildered. Lou was as clueless as ever, but also endearing, Avery thought. Whenever she looked at him, she was reminded of Pig-'Pen in the old Peanuts cartoon. Lou always looked disheveled. He was absolutely brilliant, yet he couldn't seem to find his mouth when he was eating, and his short-'sleeved shirt usually had at least one stain. This morning there were two. One was jelly from the raspberry-'filled doughnuts Margo had brought in. The big red spot was just above the black ink stain from the cartridge pen in his white shirt pocket. Lou tucked in his shirttail for the third time that morning and said, 'I like being down here. It's cozy.' 'We work in the corner of the basement without any windows,' Margo pointed out. 'So what'? Lou asked. 'Where we work doesn't make us any less important. We're all part of a team.'

28 Julie Garwood 'I'd like to be a part of the team that has windows,' Margo said. 'Can't have everything. Say, Avery, how's the knee'? he asked, suddenly changing subjects. She gingerly lifted the icepack and surveyed the damage. 'The swelling's gone down.' 'How'd it happen'? Mel asked. He was the only one who hadn't heard the grisly details. Margo ran her fingers through her short dark curls and said, 'An old lady nearly killed her.' 'With her Cadillac,' Lou said. 'It happened in her parking garage. The woman obviously didn't see her. There really ought to be an age restriction on renewing a driver's license.' 'Did she hit you'? Mel asked. 'No,' Avery answered. 'I dove to get out of her way when she came roaring around the corner. I ended up flying across the hood of a Mercedes and whacked my knee on the hood ornament. I recognized the Cadillac. It belongs to Mrs. Speigel, who lives in my building. I think she's about ninety. She's not supposed to drive anymore, but every once in a while I'll see her taking the car out to do errands.' 'Did she stop'? Mel asked. She shook her head. 'I don't think she had a clue I was there. She was accelerating so fast I was just glad there weren't any other people in her way.' 'You're right, Lou,' Margo said. She disappeared behind her cubicle wall, bent down to push the box of copy paper into the corner, and then stood on top of it. She was suddenly as tall as Mel. 'There should be an age limit on keeping a license. Avery told us the woman was so little she couldn't see her head over the back of the seat. Just a puff of gray hair.'

KILLJOY 29 'Our bodies shrink as we age,' Mel said. 'Just think, Margo. When you're ninety, no one will be able to see you.' Margo, a petite five feet two inches, wasn't offended. 'I'll just wear higher heels.' The phone rang, interrupting the conversation. Avery jumped at the sound, then checked the time. It was 10:14. 'This is it,' she whispered as it rang a second time. 'Answer it,' Margo anxiously demanded. Avery picked up the phone on the third ring. 'Avery De? laney.' 'Mr. Carter would like to see you in his office at ten-? thirty, Miss Delaney.' She recognized the voice. Carter's secretary had a distinct Maine accent. 'I'll be there.' Three pairs of eyes watched her as she hung up the phone. 'Oh, boy,' she whispered. 'What'? Margo, the most impatient of the group, demanded. 'Carter wants to see me.' 'Uh-'oh. That can't be good.' Mel made the remark, and then, as if he realized he'd said something he shouldn't have, added, 'You want us to go with you'? 'You'd do that'? Avery asked, surprised by the offer. 'I don't want to, but I would.' 'It's okay. I'll take the bullet alone.' 'I think we should all go,' Margo said. 'A mass firing. I mean, we're all in this together, right'? 'Yes,' Avery agreed. 'But you three tried to talk me out of going to Andrews. Remember? I'm the only one who screwed up.' She stood, put the icepack on top of the file cabinet, and reached for her jacket. 'This can't be good,' Mel repeated. 'They're breaking the chain of command. It must be really bad to get the

30 Julie Garwood boss's boss involved. Carter was just promoted to head of in-'house operations.' 'Which means he's now the boss's boss's boss,' Margo pointed out. 'I wonder if all the bosses will be there,' Lou said. 'Right,' Avery muttered. 'Maybe all three of them want to take a turn firing me.' She buttoned her suit jacket and then said, 'How do I look'? 'Like someone tried to run over you,' Mel said. 'Your hose are shredded,' Margo told her. 'I know. I thought I had another pair in my drawer, but I didn't.' 'I've got an extra pair.' 'Thanks, Margo, but you're a petite, and I'm not. Mel, Lou, turn around or sit down.' As soon as they turned their backs, she reached up under her skirt and pulled off her panty hose. Then she put her heels back on. She was sorry now she'd worn the suit. She usually wore pants and a blouse, but she was going to a luncheon today and so she'd pulled out all the stops and put on the Armani suit her aunt Carrie had sent as a present two years ago. The color was a wonderful taupe gray and had a matching sleeveless V-'neck shell. At one time there had been an obscene slit up the side, but Avery had sewn it together. It was a great-'looking suit. Now it would be remembered as the suit she wore the day she got fired. 'Catch,' Margo said as she threw the new package of panty hose at Avery. 'These are the one-'size-'fits-'all kind. They'll work just fine. You have to wear hose. You know the dress code.' Avery read the label. It did say the hose would fit every size. 'Thanks,' she said as she sat down again. Her legs

KILLJOY 31 were long, and she was afraid of tearing the hose when she pulled them up over her hips, but they seemed to fit. 'You're going to be late,' Mel told her when she stood up again and adjusted her skirt. Why hadn't she noticed how short it was? The hem barely touched the top of her knees. 'I've got four minutes left.' After she'd put on some lip gloss and clipped her hair back behind her neck with a barrette, she slipped the heels back on. Only then did she notice how loose the right heel was. She must have broken it when she slammed into the hood of the car. Can't do anything about it now, she thought. She took a deep breath, straightened her shoulders, and limped toward the aisle. With every step, her left knee throbbed. 'Wish me luck.' 'Avery,' Mel shouted. He waited until she turned around, then hurled her clip-'on ID. 'You should probably wear this.' 'Yeah, right. They'll want to take it from me before they escort me out of the building.' Margo called after her. 'Hey, Avery, think of it this way''if you get fired, you won't have to worry about all the work piling up while you and your aunt chill out at that fancy spa.' 'I haven't decided if I'm going to meet my aunt or not. She still thinks I'm chaperoning those kids around D.C.' 'But now that that got canceled, you ought to go get pampered,' Margo argued. 'That's right, you should go,' Lou said. 'You could stay at Utopia a whole month and work on your r'sum'.' 'Not helping, guys,' Avery said without looking back. Carter's office was four flights up. On any other day she would have taken the stairs as aerobic exercise, but her left knee ached too much, and the heel on her right shoe

32 Julie Garwood was too wobbly. She was exhausted by the time she reached the elevator. While she waited for it, she rehearsed what she would say when Carter asked what in God's name she thought she was doing. The doors parted. She took a step forward and felt something snap. Glancing down, she spotted the heel of her shoe lodged in the seam between the elevator and the floor. Since she was alone, she hiked her skirt up and bent down on her good knee to pry the heel loose. It was then that the elevator doors closed on her head. Muttering an expletive, Avery fell back. The car began to move and she grabbed the railing. She clutched the broken heel in her hand and pulled herself to her feet just as the doors opened on the first floor. By the time she reached the fourth floor, the elevator was full of passengers, and she was squeezed to the back of the car. Feeling like an idiot, she excused her way to the front and limped off. Unfortunately, Carter's office was located at the end of a long corridor. The glass doors were so far away she couldn't even read the name etched above the brass handle. Suck it up, she thought as she started walking. She was halfway there when she stopped to check the time and give her leg a rest. She had one minute. She could make it, she thought as she started walking again. Her barrette slipped out of her hair, but she caught it before it fell to the floor. She clipped it back in place and continued on. She was beginning to wish Mrs. Speigel's car had actually struck her. Then she wouldn't have to come up with any excuses, and Carter could call her at the hospital and fire her over the phone. Suck it up, she repeated. Could it get any worse? Of course it could. At precisely the second she was pulling the door open, her panty hose began to slip. By the time

KILLJOY 33 she'd limped over to the receptionist, the waistband was down around her hips. The stately brunette woman wearing a knockoff Chanel suit looked a bit startled as she watched Avery approach. 'Miss Delaney'? 'Yes,' she answered. The woman smiled. 'You're right on time. Mr. Carter will appreciate that. He keeps a tight schedule.' Avery leaned forward as the woman picked up the phone to announce her. 'Is there a ladies? room close by'? 'It's down the hall, past the bank of elevators, on your left.' Avery glanced behind her and considered her options. She could be late for the appointment, try to run like hell down the mile-'long hallway and rip off the damn pantyhose, or she could'? The receptionist interrupted her frantic thoughts. 'Mr. Carter will see you now.' She didn't move. 'You may go inside,' she said. 'The thing is? .' .' .' 'Yes'? Avery slowly straightened. The panty hose stayed put. Smiling, she said, 'I'll go on in then.' She pivoted and held her smile as she grabbed the edge of the desk, and then tried to walk as though her shoe still had a heel. With any luck, Carter wouldn't even notice her condition. Who was she kidding? The man was trained to be observant. Tall, distinguished-'looking, with a thick head of silver-? tipped hair and a square chin, Tom Carter stood when she entered. She hobbled forward. When she reached the chair

34 Julie Garwood in front of his desk, she wanted to throw ? herself into it, but waited for him to give her permission. Carter reached across the desk to shake her hand, and it was then, as she was stretching forward, that her panty hose gave up the fight. The crotch was now down around her knees. In a panic, she grabbed his hand and shook it vigorously. Too late she realized she was clutching the heel of her shoe in her right hand. She hadn't sweated this much since she took the graduate record exam. 'It's a pleasure to meet you, sir. An honor, really. You wanted to see me? My, it's warm in here. Would you mind if I removed my jacket'? She was rambling but couldn't seem to stop. The remark about the temperature had gotten his attention, though. Thank God, the rumors were right. Carter did have his own thermostat and liked to keep his office just below freezing. It was like an Alaskan tomb. Avery was surprised she couldn't see her breath when she exhaled. That's when she realized she wasn't breathing. Calm down, she told herself. Take a deep breath. Carter enthusiastically nodded. He didn't mention the heel that had dropped on top of a stack of files on his desk. 'I thought it was warm, but my assistant keeps telling me it's cold in here. Let me just turn down the thermostat a notch.' She didn't wait for him to give her permission to sit. The second he turned his back, she snatched the heel off the files''which she noticed were labeled with her name and the names of the other members of the pen''and then fell into the chair. Her panty hose were in a wad around her knees. She frantically unbuttoned her jacket, removed it, and draped it over her lap. Her arms and shoulders were covered in goose bumps seconds later.

KILLJOY 35 Suck it up, she thought. It was going to be okay. Once he sat down behind his desk, she could slowly work the hose down her legs and get rid of them. Carter would never be the wiser. It was a great plan, and it would have worked if Carter had cooperated, but he didn't return to his chair. He walked over to her side, then leaned back to sit on the edge of his desk. She wasn't short by Margo's standards, but she still had to tilt her head back in order to look into his eyes. There seemed to be a twinkle, which she thought was quite odd, unless, of course, he enjoyed firing people. God, maybe that rumor was true too. 'I noticed you were limping. How did you hurt your knee'? he asked. He bent down to pick up the barrette that had fallen to the floor. 'An accident,' she said, taking the barrette and dropping it in her lap. She could tell from the quizzical look in his eyes she hadn't given him a satisfactory answer. 'An elderly lady? .' .' .' quite elderly, as a matter of fact, driving a rather large vehicle, didn't see me when I was walking toward my car in my parking garage. I had to jump out of the way so she wouldn't hit me. I ended up on top of a Mercedes, and I think that's when I broke my heel and bruised my knee.' Then, before he could make a comment about the unfortunate incident, she plunged on. 'Actually, I only loosened the heel then. It broke off in the elevator as the doors were closing on my head.' He was staring at her as though she had just turned into a babbling fool. 'Sir, it hasn't been a good morning.' 'Then I'd brace myself if I were you,' he said, his voice suddenly grim. 'It's going to get worse.' Her shoulders slumped. Carter finally went behind his desk and sat down. She seized the opportunity. Slipping her

36 Julie Garwood hands under her jacket and skirt, she worked the panty hose down her legs. It was awkward but doable, and, other than appearing to be squirming in the hot seat, she managed the feat. While he opened her file and began to read the notes he or someone else had compiled against her, she grabbed the hose and wadded them into a ball. She had her shoes back on by the time he looked up at her again. 'I received a call from Mike Andrews,' he began. There it was again, that grim, you're-'gonna-'get-'your-'ass-'fired tone of voice. Her stomach felt as though it had just dropped to her ankles. 'Yes, sir'? 'I believe you know him'? 'Yes, sir. Not well,' she hastened to add. 'I found his number and called him before I left the office.' 'And during that phone call you convinced him to deploy a SWAT team to First National Bank on? .' .' .' He looked down again, searching the file for the location. She rattled off the address, adding, 'The branch is near the state line.' He leaned back, crossed his arms, and said, 'Tell me what you know about these robberies.' She took a deep breath and tried to relax. She was on safe ground now, in control. Since she had typed all the agents? reports into the computer and looked at the bank tapes, she'd learned, and pretty much memorized, every little detail. 'The robbers call themselves the Politicians,' she said. 'There are three of them.' 'Continue,' he urged. 'There have been three robberies in the past three months. The men, all wearing white clothes, entered the first bank, First National Bank and Trust on Twelfth Street, on March fifteenth, exactly three minutes after the bank

KILLJOY 37 had opened for business. The men used guns to subdue the personnel and one customer, but they didn't fire those weapons. The man shouting the orders held a knife against the security guard's neck. When the other two were running toward the door, the leader stabbed the guard, dropped the knife, and then left. The guard had done nothing to provoke the man. There was absolutely no reason to kill him.' 'No, there wasn't,' Carter agreed. 'The second robbery took place on April thirteenth at the Bank of America in Maryland. A bank manager, a woman, was killed during that robbery. The leader was on his way out the door. He suddenly turned around and fired point-'blank. Once again, there didn't seem to be a reason, because the personnel had been desperately trying to cooperate.' 'And the third robbery'? 'That one took place on May fifteenth at Goldman's Bank and Trust in Maryland,' she said. 'As you know, the violence escalated. Two people were killed, and a third was left for dead but has miraculously 'recovered.' 'Okay, you've got your facts down,' he said. 'Now, tell me. What made you think a little branch of the First National Bank in Virginia would be the next target'? His stare was unnerving. She glanced down at her lap while she gathered her thoughts and then looked up again. She knew how she had arrived at the conclusion, but explaining it to the head of in-'house operations was going to be difficult. 'I guess you could say it's all in how I look at things. It was all there? .' .' .' most of it anyway, in the file.' 'No one else saw it in the file,' he pointed out. 'They hit different banks with the three robberies, but you convinced Andrews that they were going to hit another branch of First National again.'

38 Julie Garwood 'Yes, sir, I did.' 'It's? .' .' .' remarkable how you talked him into it.' 'Not really,' she said, hoping Andrews hadn't told Carter every word she'd said. 'You used my name.' She inwardly cringed. 'Yes, sir. I did.' 'You told Andrews the order came from me. Is that correct, Delaney'? Here it comes, she thought. The you're-'getting-'your-'ass-? fired part. 'Yes, sir.' 'Let's get back to the facts, shall we? Here's what I want to know. The Politicians had struck on March fifteenth, April thirteenth, then May fifteenth. We didn't know why they were hitting on those specific days, but you did, didn't you? That's what you told Andrews,' he reminded her. 'But you didn't go into an explanation.' 'There wasn't time.' 'There's time now. How did you arrive at your conclusion'? 'Shakespeare, sir,' she answered. 'Shakespeare'? 'Yes, sir. The robberies all followed the same pattern, almost like a ritual of some kind. I got a printout of the first bank's records for the week prior to the robbery. I did the same with the other two banks. I thought something might show up that would link them,' she said. She paused to shake her head. 'I had reams and reams of printouts all over the office, and I did find something a little curious. Fortunately, I had the discs from the banks, and I was able to cross-'check with the computer.' Carter rubbed his jaw, distracting her. She could see a hint of impatience in his eyes. 'Sir, bear with me another minute. Now, the first bank was robbed on March fifteenth. Does that date trigger anything in your mind''

KILLJOY 39 Before he could answer, she plunged ahead. 'The ides of March? Julius Caesar'? He nodded. 'That must have been in the back of my mind last night while I was reading all the printouts, and I noticed an ATM withdrawal was made by a man named Nate Cassius. I still hadn't quite put it together,' she admitted. 'But I realized, if I was right, and I was hoping to heaven I was, that the leader of the Politicians was leaving us clues. Maybe he was playing some twisted game. Maybe he was waiting to see how long it would take us to catch on.' She had his full attention now. 'Continue,' he said. 'As I mentioned before, the dates frustrated me until I did my research. I looked up the Roman calendar and found that when the Romans were calculating the length of the months, they also figured the date of the ides. We know from Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar that the ides of March falls on the fifteenth. But not all the months. Some fall on the thirteenth. So, using that logic, I went back over the ATM withdrawals the week prior to the second and third robberies, and guess what I found'? 'Did Nate Cassius make a withdrawal from those banks'? 'No, sir,' she answered. 'But a William Brutus did in one bank, and Mario Casca did in the other? .' .' .' and the withdrawals happened just two days before the robberies. I think they were sizing up the layout of the banks.' 'Go on,' he said, leaning forward now. 'I didn't put it together until the last minute. I had to pull up the transaction records for all of the banks in the tri-'state area from the eleventh on.' 'Because the other two withdrawals were made exactly two days before the actual robberies.' 'Yes,' she said. 'I spent most of the night cross-'checking

40 Julie Garwood with the data I had in the computer for the eleventh, and by gosh, there it was. Mr. John Ligarius had made a withdrawal from that little branch of First National at three-? forty-'five in the morning. All of these names''Cassius, Brutus, Casca, Ligarius''they were conspirators against Caesar. I didn't have time to run a check on the people who owned these cards, but I did find out that the cards were issued from banks in Arlington. It added up. Ligarius made a withdrawal from the First National Bank. So, the First National Bank was the next target. 'I thought that time was critical, and my superior, Mr. Doug'las, wasn't available. He had already left to catch a four-'hour flight, and it wasn't possible for me to talk to him. I used initiative,' she stressed. 'And I would rather have been wrong and lose my job than keep silent and find out after the fact that I was right. Sir, my conclusions and subsequent actions will be in the report I'm typing up, and when you read it, you will note that I take full responsibility for my actions. My coworkers had nothing to do with my decision to call Andrews. But in my defense,' she hastened to add, 'I, like the others in my department, have a master's degree, and we're all very good at what we do. We aren't simply typists transferring agents? notes into the database. We analyze the information we're given.' 'So does the computer program.' 'Yes, but the computer doesn't have heart or instincts. We do. And, sir, now that we're on the subject of job descriptions, I would like to mention that the minimum wage has gone up, but our salaries have not.' He blinked. 'Are you hitting me up for a raise'? She winced. Maybe she had said too much, but at least if she was going to lose her job, Lou and Mel and Margo might benefit. She felt a sudden burst of anger because she and her coworkers were so undervalued. She folded her

KILLJOY 41 arms and looked directly into his eyes. 'As I've reviewed the facts for you, I've become more convinced than ever that I was right. I had no other choice than to notify Andrews, and he wouldn't move until I used your name. I know I overstepped my authority, but there simply was no time and I had to'? ? 'They got them, Avery.' She stopped short and then said, 'Excuse me, sir'? 'I said Andrews and his men got them.' She didn't know why she was so shocked by the news, but she was. 'All of them'? she asked. He nodded. 'Andrews and his team were waiting, and at precisely three minutes after ten, the three men stormed the bank.' 'Was anyone hurt'? 'No.' She sighed. 'Thank heavens.' Carter nodded. 'They were wearing white. Did you figure out the significance of the color'? 'Sure. The Roman senators wore white robes.' 'The three men are being interrogated now, but I imagine you have already figured out what their game was.' 'They probably consider themselves anarchists trying to bring down the government. They'll tell you they're trying to kill Caesar and probably even hail themselves as martyrs for the cause, but you know what? When you cut through all the phony baloney, it's the same old same old. Greed was the real motivator. They were trying to be clever about it. That's all.' She was smiling, feeling quite pleased with herself, when a sudden thought occurred to her. 'Sir, you said my morning was going to get worse,' she reminded him. 'What did you mean'? 'There's going to be a press conference in? .' .' .' He paused

42 Julie Garwood to glance at the clock. '.' .' .' ten minutes, and you're the star attraction. I understand you have an aversion to being in the spotlight. I don't like press conferences either, but we do what we have to do.' Avery could feel the panic building. 'Mike Andrews and his team should do the press conference. They apprehended the suspects. I was simply doing my job.' 'Are you being modest, or''? She leaned forward as she interrupted him. 'Sir, I'd rather have a root canal.' He caught himself before he smiled, but the twinkle had returned to his eyes. 'So this aversion is deep-'rooted then'? 'Yes, sir. It is.' She appreciated his attempt to lighten the mood, but she couldn't get rid of her growing apprehension. 'May I ask you a question'? 'Yes'? 'Why is my file on your desk? I did follow procedure? .' .' . as best I could,' she pointed out. 'And if you didn't plan to fire me? .' .' .' 'I wanted to familiarize myself with your department,' he said as he picked up the file. 'May I ask why'? 'You're getting a new superior.' She didn't like hearing that. She and the others got along well with Douglas, and change was difficult. 'Is Mr. Douglas retiring, then? He's been talking about it for as long as I've been here.' 'Yes,' Carter answered. Bummer, she thought. 'May I ask who my new boss is'? He glanced up from the folder in his hand. 'Me,' he answered. He let her absorb the information before continuing. 'The four of you will be moved into my department.' She perked up. 'We're getting new office space''

KILLJOY 43 Her excitement was quickly squelched. 'No, you'll stay where you are, but starting Monday morning, you'll report directly to me.' She tried to look happy. 'So, we'll be running up and down four flights of stairs every time we need to talk to you'? She knew she sounded like a whiner, but it was too late to take the words back. 'We do have elevators, and most of our employees are able to ride them without getting their heads caught between the doors.' The sarcasm didn't faze her. 'Yes, sir. May I ask if we'll be getting raises? We're all way past due for our evaluations.' 'Your evaluation is taking place right now.' 'Oh.' She wished he'd mentioned that fact starting out. 'How am I doing'? 'This is the interview portion of the evaluation, and during an interview I ask the questions, and you answer them. That's pretty much how it works.' He opened her file and began to read. He started with the personal statement she'd written when she'd applied, then scanned her background information. 'You lived with your grandmother, Lola Delaney, until the age of eleven.' 'That's correct.' She watched him flip through the pages, obviously checking facts and dates. She wanted to ask him why he felt the need to go over her history, but she knew that if she did, she'd sound defensive and maybe even antagonistic, and so she gripped her hands together and kept quiet. Carter was her new superior, and she wanted to start off on the right foot. 'Lola Delaney was murdered on the night of? .' .' .'

44 Julie Garwood 'February fourteenth,' she said without emotion. 'Valentine's Day.' He glanced up. 'You saw it happen.' 'Yes.' He began to peruse the notes once again. 'Dale Skarrett, the man who killed your grandmother, was already a wanted man. There was a warrant for his arrest in connection with a jewelry heist where the storeowner was murdered, and over four million in uncut stones were stolen. The diamonds weren't recovered, and Skarrett was never formally charged.' Avery nodded. 'The evidence against him was circumstantial, and it's doubtful they would have gotten a conviction.' 'True,' Carter agreed. 'Jill Delaney was also wanted for questioning in connection with the robbery.' 'Yes.' 'She wasn't at the house the night your grandmother was murdered.' 'No, but I'm sure she sent Skarrett to kidnap me.' 'But you didn't cooperate.' Her stomach began to tighten. 'No, I didn't.' 'No one knew what had happened until the next morning, and by the time the police arrived, Skarrett was long gone and you were in critical condition.' 'He thought I was dead,' she interjected. 'You were airlifted to Children's Hospital in Jackson? ville. One month later, when you had recovered from your injuries''a remarkable feat given the extent of the damage''your aunt Carolyn took you to her home in Bel Air, California.' He leaned back in his chair. 'That's where Skarrett came after you again, didn't he'? She could feel the tension building inside her. 'Yes,' she said. 'I was the only eyewitness who could put him away

KILLJOY 45 for life. Fortunately, I had a guardian angel. The FBI was protecting me without my knowing it. Skarrett showed up at school just as it was letting out.' 'He was unarmed and later told the authorities he only wanted to talk to you. Skarrett was arrested and charged with second degree murder,' he said. 'He was convicted and is currently serving his sentence in Florida. He was up for parole a couple of years ago and was denied. His next hearing should be coming up sometime this year.' 'Yes, sir,' she said. 'I regularly check with the prosecutor's office, and I will be sent notification once the date for the hearing is set.' 'You'll need to go.' 'I wouldn't miss it, sir.' 'What about the new trial'? he asked. He tapped the papers with his knuckles and said, 'I was curious to know why his attorney thinks he has grounds.' 'I'm afraid he does have grounds,' she said. 'The brief that was filed accused the prosecutor of withholding vital information. My grandmother had a heart condition, and the physician who treated her came forward after he read about her death. That information wasn't handed over to Skarrett's attorney.' 'But you haven't heard yet if, in fact, there will be a new trial'? 'No, sir, I haven't.' 'Now let's get back to you,' he said. She couldn't be cooperative a second longer. 'Sir, may I ask why you're so interested in my background'? 'You're being evaluated,' he reminded her. 'Two weeks after Skarrett was convicted, Jill Delaney was killed in an automobile ? accident.' 'Yes.' Avery had forgotten much of her childhood, but she re-

46 Julie Garwood membered that phone call clearly. She had just celebrated Carrie's birthday, a belated event since Avery had been in the hospital on the actual date, and was helping the housekeeper put the vegetables on the table before they all sat down to dinner. Avery had placed the mashed potatoes next to Uncle Tony's plate when Aunt Carrie answered the phone. A funeral director was calling to tell her that Jilly had been cremated in a fiery car crash, but there were enough of her remains left to put in an urn. He wanted to know what Carrie wanted done with the ashes and the personal effects, which included a charred driver's license. Avery was standing in front of the bay window staring out at some frantic hummingbirds when she overheard Carrie tell the man to throw them in the nearest Dumpster. She could recall every second of that moment. Carter drew her attention back to their discussion when he suddenly switched subjects. 'You did your undergraduate work at Santa Clara University, graduated with honors with a major in psychology and a minor in political science and another minor in history. You then went to Stanford and received a master's in criminal justice.' Having said that, he closed her file. 'In your personal statement you said you made up your mind to become an FBI agent when you were twelve years old. Why'? She knew he'd already read her answer. It was there in the personal statement she'd made when she'd ? applied to the Bureau. 'An FBI agent named John Cross saved my life. If he hadn't been watching out for me? .' .' .' if Skarrett had taken me from school, my life would have been over.' Carter nodded. 'And you believed you could make a difference working for the Bureau.' 'Yes.' 'Then why didn't you become a field agent''

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