Anne Stuart

September 2013 $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-338-2

He'll die for his crimes. She'll live for his love.

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This is my fate . . . to die for unspeakable crimes. All I ask is that a stranger give herself to me and to my secrets.

Richard Tiernan has been sentenced to death. With an ulterior motive and a heart full of dark truths, he agrees to tell all to an ailing writer whose greed and ambition are so strong that he will even give his own daughter to Richard in return for one last Pulitzer-winning story.

I want Cassidy Roarke. I need her. But she has to prove she’s worthy. That she can be trusted.

Cassidy’s spent her life struggling to earn her father’s respect and love. Now his health is failing, and her feelings for him are even more complex. Loyalty is a sacrifice. Daughters can be broken by their fathers. She has to help when he calls. He’s bailed Richard Tiernan out of prison just long enough to coax the shocking facts out of him. What happened that night? What did Tiernan really do to his family?

Her father will sell his soul to the Devil before he dies. So be it.

Richard Tiernan may take them both to Hell.

New York Times bestselling author Anne Stuart is a grandmaster of the genre, winner of Romance Writers of America's prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award, survivor of more than thirty-five years in the romance business, and still just keeps getting better. Her general outrageousness has gotten her on Entertainment Tonight, as well as in Vogue, People, USA Today, Women’s Day and countless other national newspapers and magazines. Anne’s multi-genre booklist appears on numerous award and bestseller lists. Visit her at >>


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SHE DREAMED THAT night. Visions of blood and sex and death, surrounding her, smothering her. She reached out, but there was no one there. No one to hold her, comfort her, tell her it was nothing but a nightmare. No one to promise that the darkness couldn’t touch her, couldn’t hurt her. No one to make her believe in happy endings. She opened her eyes, and it was still and silent, peaceful, the snow drifting down past her apartment window. She was safe and warm.

He dreamed that night. Lying on the thin mattress, the ceaseless noise of prison pressing down on him. He dreamed of fields and flowers and a woman, calling to him; he dreamed of peace and comfort and happy endings. But when he awoke, cold and sweating in the dark cell, there was no one there. Only the knowledge that darkness was all around him, death lived in his soul, and his hands were stained with blood.



Chapter 1

The New York Post . . .

RICHARD TIERNAN, sentenced to death for the brutal murder of his wife, was released today on one million dollars bail pending the outcome of his appeal.

In a strange twist, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Sean O’Rourke posted the bail, but insists there’s no book in the works about the stabbing death of Diana Scott Tiernan fifteen months earlier. O’Rourke has no other known connection to Richard Tiernan.

The special prosecutor, Jerome Fabiani, was visibly angered by the judge’s decision to release Tiernan, but said he didn’t expect the killer to be free for long.

"He’s been convicted, and he’s not going to walk away from it. We’re pursuing our investigation into the disappearance and probable death of his two children and several other women, and we have no intention of giving up on this one without a fight.”

Gulf war veteran and national hero, retired U.S. General Amberson Scott, who testified against his son-in-law, expressed his profound anger over Tiernan’s release. "I’m just an ordinary American citizen seeking justice,” said Scott, who was at the courthouse trying to block Tiernan’s release.

Richard Tiernan is scheduled to be back in court within the next two months. He left in the company of Sean O’Rourke, and his whereabouts are presently unknown.

O’Rourke refused to confirm or deny that he had received a seven-figure advance on a book about the notorious Tiernan case.

Richard Tiernan was sentenced to die by lethal injection, the first death sentence in the state of New York since the death penalty was reinstated.

CASSIDY ROARKE WAS running late, and she wasn’t happy about it. At the age of twenty-seven, she had done her best to make a safe, predictable life for herself. She worked hard at her job, always being careful not to put her heart and soul into it, only her intellect and energy. She was a reliable friend, a shoulder to cry on, a good, decent, determinedly ordinary young woman who just happened to have a notoriously colorful father. She’d moved away from that, from the noise and excitement of her childhood, to a comfortable life in Baltimore, with good if not particularly close friends, a stimulating job, and an existence that other people might characterize as deadly dull.

Cassidy reveled in the dullness. The safe constancy of day after day, with little or no variation. No one needed her here, no one made impossible demands. And if she hadn’t knocked over her diet Coke on the way out the door and been forced to change her clothes, she wouldn’t have been ten minutes late in meeting Emmie and John for dinner. And she wouldn’t have been there to answer the phone.

"Cassidy. It’s your da.”

It had been months since she’d heard her father’s voice, but there was no mistaking Sean O’Rourke’s gruff, determinedly Irish tones, even if Cassidy wanted to.

"Hello, Sean,” she said carefully, all her instincts alert. He wanted something from her. He always did. And she’d been working very hard at not giving in to his life-draining demands. "What do you want?”

"Can’t your father call just to find out how his elder daughter’s doing? I’ve missed you, girl. It’s been ages since I’ve seen you.”

"You’ve been busy,” she said.

"That I have. A new book, a new project. Life’s been grandly entertaining, Cass.”

"If you like child murders,” she said wryly.

"You’ve been reading the tabloids, have you? I would have thought you’d be too well protected in that ivory tower.”

"I admit I don’t have your tabloid mentality, but even I can’t avoid the checkout lines at the supermarket. And working for an academic press doesn’t really qualify as an ivory tower, you know.”

"And glad I am that you’ve chosen to follow in my literary footsteps, even if it’s on the side of the enemy,” Sean said magnanimously. "You haven’t inherited my talent for writing, but at least you’ve got a bit of my love for the written word.”

"Sean, I’m late,” Cass said wearily, knowing her father would go on all night before he finally got to the point. And there was a point, she was sure of it.

"Faith, you haven’t got a moment to spare for your old man? It’s your mother’s fault. She must have been on to you . . .”

"I haven’t talked with her in a week.”

"You see, it proves my point. She called to warn you about Richard Tiernan, didn’t she? I know the woman. Our married life was a hell I won’t soon forget. She must have filled your head with stories about him. You should know better than to believe her melodramatic crap. What did she tell you? That the man’s a sociopath, with no sense of right or wrong? That he’s one of those charming, evil creatures who’s at the mercy of destructive, irrational urges?”

"Why would she tell me any such thing? Sounds like you’ve been working on your newest book, Sean. As a matter of fact, she called to wish me a happy birthday.”

Dead silence on the other end of the line. Finally, "I was never good with dates.”

"I know, Sean,” she said, her voice gentling. He was doing it to her again. Making her forgive him, when she should be trying to make him feel guilty. "Why should Mother warn me about Richard Tiernan?”

"I can’t imagine,” Sean said blandly. "Cass, darling, I want to see you.”


"Why?” he echoed. "I haven’t seen you since last summer, when you came to the Hamptons. I miss my daughter. I’m getting on in years, and I won’t live forever . . .”

"Stuff it, Sean. You saw me at Christmas, even if you’ve conveniently forgotten, and you’ll never get old, much less die. So that won’t work. What do you want from me?”

"Just a visit,” he said, wheedling now, as he was so good at doing. "I thought maybe we could spend some time together. I could make use of your professional services . . .”

Cassidy laughed. "You once told me that all copy editors should be stood up against a wall and shot.”

"You’re more than a copy editor, Cass, and you know it. And if you just let me put in a word for you, you wouldn’t have to be stuck in a place like Baltimore . . .”

"I’m very happy where I am, Sean.”

"Come and see me, lass.” He started the wheedling again. "You must be due for some vacation by now. Mabry misses you, and so do I. She’s worried about me, the fool woman.”

Her quiet alarm at Sean’s unprecedented phone call began to grow. "Why is she worried about you?”

"A cold that won’t go away,” he said blithely. "I’ve told her she’s being ridiculous, but she insisted I call you.”

That, Cassidy could well believe. Sean never called anyone. "Why do you really want me?”

"Oh ye of little faith!” Sean declaimed. "Come see me, Cass. Before it’s too late.”

The phone line went dead. Cassidy stared at it, blinking for a moment. "Melodramatic bastard,” she said succinctly, slamming down the receiver.

She wasn’t going to let him do it to her again. She wasn’t going to let Sean manipulate her as he always had. She kept her distance, both physical and emotional, for a very good reason. Sean was voracious—he devoured any soul who came near him, anyone not strong enough to withstand his powerful personality. Cassidy had worked hard at being able to stand up to him, but she kept her exposure to a minimum.

The story about Sean being sick was just that, a story. Sean O’Rourke had never been sick a day in his life—germs wouldn’t dare mess with him. A short, fierce bull of a man, he stormed through life, through his five wives and three children and countless bestsellers with an appetite for experience that was astonishing. As a child she’d been terrified of him. Now she was only faintly wary.

And he needed her. It was hard to resist, even though she knew the emotional danger. It probably had something to do with his career—Sean had few real emotions for anything else.

She knew perfectly well she was going to go. Despite her misgivings, she’d survive a visit in Sean and Mabry’s Park Avenue apartment. Her father had lost the ability to torment her, and Richard Tiernan was the least of her worries. If he was anywhere in Sean’s orbit, she doubted he’d even notice her. She simply wasn’t the type to inspire murderous obsessions.

Damn, she was late. It was a March day in Baltimore, and Cassidy had been hoping for spring, not a trip farther north. It couldn’t be helped. When it came right down to it, she was still prey to the old emotions that raged through her family, including a hopeless affection for her impossible father, who never failed to let her down. She’d take her vacation time, fly to New York, and see him, making sure he was the same, invulnerable old reprobate. She’d figure out what Sean wanted from her, tell him no, do some shopping, and come home.

Very simple. So why did she have this overwhelming feeling of impending doom?

Maybe she should ignore her family’s demands, book a flight for the Caribbean, and lie in the sun, baking away the darkness that always seemed to invade her soul by the end of the winter.

But she wasn’t going to do that. Everything always seemed fraught with disaster this time of year—she’d learned not to give in to her irrational depression. But if she ignored Sean’s enigmatic demands, she’d end up spending her entire vacation worrying.

No, she was going, whether she wanted to or not. She just hoped to God she wasn’t going to run into Sean’s newest pet project.

Murderous psychopaths had never held any particular charm for her. Unlike her father, she preferred the more grisly aspects of modern life between the pages of a book. With any luck, that was as close as she would ever get to Richard Tiernan.

"LEAVE ME ALONE, Mabry,” Sean O’Rourke, born John Roarke, snapped at his fifth wife. "You know how I hate to have anyone fussing over me.”

"I’m not fussing,” Mabry murmured, tossing her silky straight platinum hair over one angular shoulder. "I simply said that if you don’t seem to be feeling better, you should go back to that doctor you’re so fond of and stop snapping at me.”

"Damn it, I’m not snapping,” Sean growled. "I just asked when the hell Cassidy’s supposed to arrive.”

"This is the third time today you’ve asked me,” she pointed out with maddening calm. "And for the third time I’ll tell you, I don’t know. I don’t even know if she’s coming at all. I called her and added my two cents, but Cassidy is her own woman.”

"Damn her,” Sean said morosely. "You told her I’d been ill?”

"I told her exactly what you wanted me to tell her. That you had a bad cold, you weren’t recovering as quickly as I wanted, and that I thought she ought to come see you.”

"And what did she say to that?”

"Something noncommittal. You should know, Sean, that if you fail to be there for the people in your life, they might very well fail to be there for you as well.”

"Cassidy wouldn’t fail me,” he said with great certainty. "She’s fair and loyal, and she wouldn’t hold a grudge.”

"You’re used to people forgiving you. You’ll go too far one of these days.”

"Spare me the voice of doom, Mabry, it doesn’t become you,” Sean said. "I know my daughter better than you. She’ll be here. I just want to know when.”

Mabry drained her cup of ginseng tea. "For the first time in your life, darling, you’ll have to be patient.”

Sean glared at her, but she ignored him, her beautiful face serene and distant as she turned to the morning paper. "If you aren’t going to fight with me, I’ll have to find someone who will,” he said in a peevish voice.

Her voice stopped him at the door. "I’d watch it before you tangle with your newest pet, love,” she said in a dulcet voice. "He might not be quite as civilized as you think.”

Sean’s laugh was harsh. "That’s what makes him interesting, Mabry. Jackals are far more inspiring than house cats.”

"You’ll go too far.”

"I always have,” he said. And there was no missing the pride in his rough voice.

HE LAY ON THE bed, letting the white-blue surround him. He’d become adept at disappearing, letting his conscious mind drift free, so that nothing remained, just the shell of his body, the weight of his bones pressing in to the thin prison mattress. There were noises echoing through the vast steel and concrete structure, voices, the slam of metal doors, the jingle of keys and coins, but none of them reached him as he floated, free and formless.

He’d gotten so that he could do it any time he wanted, an instinctive, almost unconscious escape. As an alibi it had been a piss-poor one, but he hadn’t been interested in convincing a jury of his peers. He’d only been concerned with ending it quickly.

At one point he’d even considered confessing, but some stray remnant of self-preservation had stopped him. Once he confessed, there’d be no going back. As long as he kept silent, denied everything, there would always be an element of doubt. No matter how tiny.

He remembered the first time he’d gone into that dark, empty place. It had been automatic, as he knelt beside the body of his dying wife, her blood staining his hands and clothes. When the police had come he’d still been there, silent, lost. Unable to answer their simple questions. Thank God.

It was much better like this. Free and floating, in a vacuum with no sun or wind, no warmth, nothing but a vast emptiness.

He blinked, a tiny movement, and the bright blue of the winter sky invaded his stillness. The bed beneath him was neither thin nor hard. It fit his tall, rangy body far better than the narrow cots in prison, and he supposed he should summon up some kind of gratitude. But gratitude would require emotion, and he had no emotions.

He could hear the two of them arguing, the voices more intrusive than the muffled obscenity of Dannemora. He didn’t want to be here. He didn’t want to be anyplace at all, but that still, white-blue emptiness. But he wasn’t finished yet. He wasn’t ready to rest.

He pulled himself upright, barely noticing his surroundings. Sean O’Rourke’s upscale Manhattan apartment with its pseudo-Southwestern decor meant no more to him than the spartan cell he’d shared with another murderer. All that mattered was getting through the next hour, the next few weeks. All that mattered was doing what he had to do. No matter what the cost.

"You’re awake, then.” O’Rourke stood in the doorway, his aggressive chin pushed forward. He was like a bantam rooster, short, bandylegged, pugnacious. Tiernan had no illusions as to what O’Rourke wanted from him, believed of him. He had every intention of exploiting him to the fullest.

"I’m awake,” said Richard Tiernan. "Where’s your daughter?”

CASSIDY WAS AFRAID of flying. It wasn’t something she admitted very often, even to herself, but three days later she blessed the fact that what existed of the United States railroad system was still working reasonably well between Baltimore and New York. She didn’t have to mess with getting to and from airports, and she didn’t even have to think about sitting in a contraption that lifted off the ground and suspended her in midair for a ridiculous amount of time.

Unfortunately, it left her with too much time for distraction, and she’d made the mistake of grabbing People magazine just before she got on the train. By sheer force of will she’d managed to avoid any of the media stories involving her father and a convicted killer, but trapped on a crowded train with a sour-tempered bureaucrat to her left, there was no way she could resist the temptation, particularly with Sean’s pugnacious face on the cover. "‘He’s innocent,’ claims Sean O’Rourke, who’s putting his money where his mouth is,” said the teaser. In the corner, over her father’s shoulder, was a grainy snapshot of a happy family, a blond, perfect wife, two young, beautiful children, and a tall, dark man standing behind them, a protective hand on the woman’s shoulder. Or was it a threatening hand?

Suddenly she couldn’t stand even touching the magazine. She dropped it on the floor, but the man beside her immediately scooped it up. "D’you mind?” he asked, not giving her a chance to object. "Disgusting, isn’t it?” he leaned over and breathed expensive Scotch in her face. "They let monsters like that go free, just because someone with a little clout talks them into it. He’ll kill again, you’ll see, and then that asshole O’Rourke will write a book about it. It makes me sick.”

Cassidy controlled her trace of amusement in hearing her father called an asshole. She couldn’t put up an argument on that front. "Maybe Tiernan didn’t do it.”

"Have you heard his story? He says he came home, found the bodies of his wife and children, and then went into shock and doesn’t remember another thing. They never found the bodies of his children, but his fingerprints were all over the murder weapon. He was covered with her blood. And he’s never shown a trace of sorrow or regret.”

Cassidy glanced over at the photograph on the cover. They looked so normal, so happy. The perfect family, now destroyed. She leaned back and closed her eyes, turning her face away. She could only hope to God her father wasn’t going to want to talk about Tiernan. The whole subject made her faintly ill, the thought of a man murdering his own children. Not that she had any illusions about the sacred nature of the father-child bond. She’d lived with Sean for too long to retain her innocence. Her father could wallow in the mud as much as he wanted, but she wasn’t going to let him drag her there with him.

A light snow had begun to fall when the train pulled into Penn Station. She considered calling Mabry and warning her that she’d arrived, then thought better of it. Sean fancied himself an old-fashioned Irishman, one who kept a welcome for any friend or family who happened to stray near him. There’d be room for her in the cavernous old apartment on Park Avenue, and she’d prefer to see Sean without giving him time to prepare. He wanted something from her, she was certain of it, though she doubted it had anything to do with writing. Sean had always ridiculed her lack of creativity, referring to her as his little Philistine. He’d hardly be asking her editorial expertise.

No, he wanted something else, enough so that he was willing to play sick, to enlist Mabry in his little games. And if he wanted something that much, Cassidy was curious enough to play along. For a day or two.

As luck would have it, Sean and Mabry were coming out of the door just as Cassidy reached the apartment building on Seventy-second Street.

"Cassidy, my love!” Sean boomed when he caught sight of her, flinging his arms around her. Cassidy stood within his burly embrace, bemused as always by the rush of love and irritation that swept over her when she was in her father’s presence. He pushed her away a moment later, glowering fiercely. "Let me look at you. You’ve been eating too much again. Don’t you know a woman can never be too thin or too rich? Mabry, talk to the girl. I swear, she looks positively voluptuous.”

Irritation took over as Cassidy glared down at her father. "What can I say, Sean, I’m hopelessly curvaceous. Nothing short of cosmetic surgery would whittle down my hips, and I’m not sure that would work.”

Mabry’s cool blue eyes met Cassidy’s over her father’s head, and she smiled faintly. "You’re father’s an asshole,” she said. "You’re absolutely beautiful, as always.”

"You’re the second person today who’s said that,” Cassidy said, moving past Sean to hug her elegant stepmother.

"Said you were beautiful?” Sean demanded, not liking to be ignored.

"No, said you were an asshole,” she replied.

Mabry laughed. "I wouldn’t be surprised if there were more we haven’t heard about. How long are you staying, darling? We’ll come back up and get you settled.”

"No, we won’t!” Sean snapped. "You’ve been harassing me to go to the doctor’s for weeks, and now that I have an appointment, I’m not going to miss it. Cassidy can get herself settled in. Take your old bedroom, Cassie. Just make yourself at home—-I’m not sure when we’ll be back.”

"But . . .” Mabry began, a worried expression on her face.

"But nothing,” Sean said. "Don’t fuss over the girl. Lord, you’re becoming an old lady before your time, Mabry, fussing over everyone. You’ll be here a good long time, won’t you, Cassie? We’ll have plenty of time to spend with her.”

"As a matter of fact, I wasn’t . . .”

But as usual, Sean had no interest in anyone’s thoughts but his own. He dragged Mabry down the sidewalk toward Park Avenue, waving an irritated hand. "Later,” he shouted, and they disappeared around the corner.

"He never changes, does he, miss?”

Cassidy turned and flashed a smile at the doorman. "He doesn’t seem to, Bill. How’s he been? Mabry said he was sick.”

"Not so’s I’d notice. Still getting into trouble, like always. It’s good to see you back. Maybe you can talk some sense into him.”

"Now, why does everyone seem to think I can do the impossible?” Cassidy demanded with a wry grimace. "Sean doesn’t know the meaning of the word caution.”

"That he doesn’t,” Bill said with a sigh, walking with her to the elevator. "Mind you don’t forget. Can I carry your bag up?”

"And have Father disown me? We’re staunch believers in democracy, remember? No one’s allowed to wait on us. Unless it’s a bartender.”

Bill shook his head. "You watch out for yourself, miss. I’ll be down here if you need any help.”

"Why should I . . . ?” But the elevator had already closed, and it was making its swift, silent way up to the twelfth floor.

Cassidy wasn’t much fonder of elevators than she was of airplanes, but she wasn’t crazy about walking up twelve flights, and Sean always wanted to be on the top floor wherever he lived. He and Mabry had been in their current apartment for the last ten years, and it felt oddly like home. She had every intention of kicking off her shoes and walking barefoot through the thick pile carpets, scarfing down Mabry’s supply of Perrier or whatever designer water she was currently favoring, and finding something impossibly fattening in defiance of her father’s strictures.

She dropped her suitcase in the inside hall, stepped out of her shoes, and took a deep breath. She looked at the wall of mirrors that Mabry, the ex-fashion model, had had installed, and she stuck out her tongue at her reflection.

Sean never failed to make her feel gangly, clumsy, and huge. He didn’t like the fact that her five feet nine inches towered over him, and had since she was in her early teens. He didn’t like it that she came equipped with an hourglass figure that no amount of rigid dieting, compulsive exercise, or self-hatred could change. He didn’t like the calm intelligence in her eyes. He didn’t like her flyaway red hair or her choice of professions. In fact, he didn’t approve of one damned thing about her.

The odd thing was, he loved her. Cassidy had no doubt whatsoever about that. Which was why she put up with him, for as long as she could stand him.

She tossed her down coat over a chair and began unbuttoning her silk blouse, running a hand behind her neck, freeing her mass of curls that never stayed in a neat bun. She had at least an hour alone in the apartment, and she was going to enjoy every minute of it.

The refrigerator was surprisingly well stocked. Mabry had switched to Clearly Canadian, and Cassidy grabbed a bottle of peach water and a chicken drumstick, shoving the latter in her mouth with relief. She’d been starving, but nothing on earth would make her eat in the train station.

She didn’t hear a sound. Indeed, the silence was so strong that she didn’t bother to remove the chicken leg from her mouth as she wheeled around to stare at the far doorway. She simply stood there, her mouth stuffed with food.

He filled the doorway, but the room was in shadow, and she couldn’t see his features. She didn’t need to. The man standing there watching her with such an unnatural silence could only be one man. Richard Tiernan.

And her father had let her come up to the apartment like a sacrificial lamb.



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