Envy Chapter 1

Author: J.R. Ward

Series: Fallen Angels #3

Genres: Romance , Fantasy

It was in the spring, on a dark April evening, when Detective Thomas DelVecchio Jr. learned that nightmares could in fact make the jump out of the mind and into real life.

Unfortunately for him, it wasn't exactly a news flash.

Blood was everywhere. Glossy and crimson in the moonlight, it was as if a gallon of paint had been cracked open and spastic-splashed all over not just the forest floor ... but the man who lay shredded and unmoving on a bed of decaying leaves.

At Veck's feet.

All that red shit was not a premium interior latex, however. Or an oil-based trim. Or a hearty exterior barn paint. You couldn't buy it at Home Depot or Lowe's, and you didn't clean it up with turpentine or use it in some B movie.

That was real life, right there. Leaking out all over the fuck.

What had he done? Dear God ...

Ripping off his leather jacket, he wadded the thing up, knelt down, and pressed it against the man's exposed thorax. Gurgling sounds mixed with the hard bursts of Veck's own breath as he stared down into eyes that were going opaque. Fast.

"Did I kill you? Did I?"

No response. Then again, the bastard's voice box was probably hanging from a branch somewhere.

Shit ... oh, shit ... it was like the night his mother had been killed.

Except in this case, he'd actually come to slice up someone.

That much he knew for sure: He had gotten on his motorcycle, driven out here, and waited in the forest for this psychotic POS to show up - all the while telling himself the lie that he was just going to take the "suspect" into custody.

His palm had told the truth. When his prey had finally arrived, his knife had been in his hand, and he'd made like a shadow in his deliberately black clothes, closing in... .

The Monroe Motel & Suites was only fifteen yards away, on the far side of this thick stand of brush and pines. Illuminated by piss yellow security lights, the seedy lineup of rent-by-the-night-or-the-hour was the reason both he and this sieve of a murderer had come out tonight.

Serial killers often took trophies from their victims. Incapable of forming proper emotional attachments to people, and needing physical representations of the fleeting power they enjoyed over their prey, they vested emotion in the objects or remains of the people they butchered.

David Kroner had lost his collection of souvenirs two nights ago. When his work here had been interrupted and the police had swarmed in.

So of course he would return to where he'd last been in control. It was the closest he could come to everything he'd once had.

"I've called an ambulance," Veck heard himself say, unsure who he was talking to.

Shifting his eyes, he focused on the motel's last room, the one at the end that was closest to where they were and farthest from the office. An official Caldwell Police Department evidence seal was plastered on the door and the jamb, and crime scene tape whistled in the breeze all around it. Between one blink and the next, he saw what he and the other CPDers had found there the night before last: another young woman, freshly killed and in the process of being picked over for mementos of the flesh.

More gurgling.

He looked back down. The man bleeding out beneath him was wiry and thin, but then again, David Kroner's victims had been young women aged sixteen to twenty-four so it wasn't like he needed to be built like a bouncer to get the job done. Sandy blond hair was thinning at the crown. Skin that had been white-boy pale was now going gray - at least where it wasn't covered with blood.

ping into his databanks, Veck tried to remember what the hell had just happened. After waiting for what had felt like days, a snapping of sticks had shifted his eyes around and he'd found Kroner tiptoeing through the pines.

The instant he saw the man, his hand had gone for his knife, his body had crouched down and then he'd -

"Motherfucker ..."

The headache came on sharp and fast, like someone had pounded a roofing nail into his frontal lobe. Putting a hand up, he listed to the left, and thought, well, great. When the ambulance came, the medics could treat him for an aneurysm.

At least it would give them something to do - Kroner was going to be a stiff by the time they got here.

When the screaming pain faded a little, Veck took another run at remembering ... only to slam temple-first into the land of Excedrin and blackout drapes again. With the fresh round of agony blooming in his skull like a bright red bouquet, he closed his eyes, and considered throwing up - and while the to-boot or not-to-boot debate raged in his gut, he figured it was time to be honest with himself. As much as his short-term memory had a big-ass hole in it, the fact was, he had come out here to kill this perverted bastard who, as the tally stood now, had defiled at least eleven young women from Chicago to Caldwell in the last year.

Horrific, of course. But amateur night compared to Veck'sown father - who'd done that in a three-month span once: Thomas DelVecchio Sr. wrote the book for guys like Kroner.

And it was precisely that lineage that had gotten Veck on the horn to not just the ambulance, but his partner at Homicide.

As much as he hated to admit it, he was his father's son: He had come to kill. Period. And the fact that his victim had been such a violent asshole was nothing but a socially acceptable filter over the real picture.

At its core, this had not been about avenging those dead girls.

And for fuck's sake, he'd known this night was inevitable. All his life, the shadow had been behind him, guiding him, seducing him, pulling him toward this very scene of destruction. So it made sense he didn't remember anything. His other half had finally taken over, and hadn't ceded control of the wheel until the violence was done. The proof? Somewhere in the back of his head, laughter was echoing, maniacal and satisfied.

Yeah, well, get your jollies on now, he thought at the stuff. Because he wasn't going to let himself follow too far in his father's footsteps -

The sounds of sirens bubbled up from the east, and got louder, fast.

Apparently, he wasn't the only person who heard the approach. A man burst out of one of the motel rooms, and raced around the hood of a ten-year-old beater that had open latticework for quarter panels. Kind of tough for him to get his keys out, considering he was yanking his pants on at the same time.

Next up on the flee-parade was a rough-looking woman who scrambled into an old Honda Civic while pulling down her miniskirt.

Their screeching departures meant the parking lot was good and empty when the ambulance bumped in off the road and halted in front of the office.

As the passenger-side medic got out, and what had to be a manager opened the glass door, Veck whistled loud and clear. "Over here!"

The manager apparently had no intentions of getting involved and ducked back inside. But the medic jogged over and the ambulance trundled across the parking lot. And as they zeroed in on him, Veck became utterly calm - dead calm. As untouchable as the cold, distant moon that watched over the inky black night.

Fuck his dark side. He had done this. And he was going to make himself pay.

Internal Affairs officer Sophia Reilly was going like a bat out of hell in her unmarked, shooting through the backwoods of Caldwell's scruffy edges. As she rode the twists and turns of Route 149 at a dead run, the fact that she was on her way to a crime scene didn't account for the high speed: She drove fast. Ate quick. Hated to wait in lines, wait for people, wait for information.

If she could just avoid hitting a deer before she got to the Monroe Motel & Suites -

When her cell phone went off, she had it to her ear before the second ring. "Reilly."

"Detective de la Cruz."

"Hey. Guess where I'm going right now?"

"Who called you?"

"Dispatch. Your partner's on my list of things to do - so when he dials in for an ambulance and backup in the middle of the night, and says he doesn't know what happened to the victim, I get a ring-a-ding-ding."

Unfortunately, itwas something she was getting familiar with. Thomas DelVecchio Jr. had been working Homicide for only two weeks, and he'd already brushed up against a possible suspension for coldcocking a paparazzo who'd tried to sneak a pic of a victim.

That was child's play to this mess, though.

"How'd you find out?" she asked.

"He woke me up."

"How'd he sound?"

"I'm going to be honest."

"You always are, Detective."

"He sounded just fine. Complained of a headache and loss of memory. He said there was a lot of blood and that he was one hundred percent sure that the victim was David Kroner."

A.k.a., the sick bastard who had been carving up young girls and saving the bits and pieces. The bastard's latest "work" session had been conducted the night before last at the motel, and been interrupted by unknowns. Following the disturbance, Kroner had escaped out a window over the toilet, leaving behind a tragically messy corpse and a truck full of specimen jars and other objects - all of which were being cataloged at H.Q. and cross-referenced nationwide.

"Did you ask him if he did it?" As a member of Internal Affairs, Reilly investigated her own colleagues' misdeeds, and though she took pride in her work, she didn't enjoy the fact that people with her job description had anything to do. Much better if everyone, including the cops, were law abiders and played by the rules.

"He said he didn't know."

Blackout while committing murder? Not uncommon. Especially if it was a crime of passion - like, oh, say, a homicide detective taking down a debased serial killer. And Veck had already proved himself to be a hothead in the protection or defense of victims. Well, a hothead period. The guy was a brilliant, very sexy hothead -

Not that the sexy was in any way relevant.

In the slightest.

"What's your ETA, Detective?" she asked.

"'Bout fifteen minutes."

"I'm under a mile away. I'll see you there."

"Roger that."

As they hung up, she put her phone in the inside pocket of her coat, and hitched herself up in her seat. For a member of the force to be a possible suspect in a murder investigation - and going by what Veck had said to Dispatch, the likelihood of Kroner surviving was small - created all kinds of conflicts of interest. Most of the time, Internal Affairs folks dealt with corruption, procedural infractions, and investigations into on-the-job competence. But in a situation like this, members of Veck's own department were in the tight spot of assessing whether or not one of their own had committed a crime.

Hell, depending on how this went, she might need to bring in some kind of an outside panel to make the call. But it was too early for that.

It was not too soon to think about Veck's dad, however.

Everyone knew who the man was, and she had to admit that if that blood tie had not been in the picture, she wouldn't be going into this on quite as high alert ... with the worry that payback might well have been a DelVecchio, as it were.

Thomas Sr. was one of the most notorious serial killers of ikee twentieth century. Officially, he had been charged and convicted of "only" twenty-eight murders. But he'd been implicated in some thirty more - and that was just what authorities in four states knew about. Chances were good there were dozens of missing women who hadn't been properly linked to him.

So yeah, if Veck's father had been a lawyer or an accountant or a teacher, she might not be quite so concerned. But the whole apple-doesn't-fall-far-from-the-tree thing had evil implications when it came to serial killers and their sons.

After she went over a squat bridge, the Monroe Motel & Suites was up on the right, and she pulled in, going past the office and the row of rooms to the far end of the parking lot by the forest. Getting out with her backpack full of necessaries, the sweet diesel from the ambulance made her sneeze hard, and in the aftermath, she caught the tang of the pine boughs ... as well as the unmistakable copper sting of fresh blood.

The medics had angled their vehicle so it faced into the woods, and in the headlights, both of the EMTs were working over the bloodied body of a Caucasian male. The victim's clothes had been cut off - or torn off - and what was under them was a raw pastiche of too many wounds to count.

No way he was going to live, she thought.

And then she saw Veck. The homicide detective was standing off to the side, arms crossed, feet planted, face showing ... absolutely nothing. Just as de la Cruz had said.

Christ, the guy might as well have been in line for a deli sandwich.

As she walked over the spongy bed of downed leaves and soft earth, she felt a sudden urge to tighten her own insides up. Although if she was honest, that wasn't just about this crime scene. It was the man she'd come here for, too.

On the approach, she noted the black motorcycle parked on the fringe of the forest. It was his; she'd seen it at HQ before. Matter of fact, she'd watched him from her window as he mounted the thing, kick-started it, and tore off. He wore his helmet - most of the time.

She knew that a lot of women at the station house pulled the same stare thing, but then again, there was a lot to look at. Between his heavy shoulders and his tight hips, he was built like a boxer, but his face was more pretty-boy than pugilist - or would have been had it not been for his stare. Those cold, intelligent dark blues of his took that J.Crew - model bone structure into all-man territory. And then some.

Stopping in front of him, the first thing she noticed was the blood on his black turtleneck. Spots of it here and there, not big smudges or soaked-in patches.

No scratches on his face. Or his neck.

Clothes and hat were in good condition - nothing out of kilter, torn, or abraded. Two mud circles were on the knees of his black pants. Gun was holstered. Unclear whether he had other weapons on him.

He didn't say anything. No "I didn't do it" or "Let me explain ..."

His eyes just locked on her and ... that was it.

Ditching the pleasantries, she said, "The sergeant called me in."

"I figured."

"Are you injured?"


"Mind if I ask you some questions?"


God, he was in such control of himself. "What brought you out here tonight?"

"I knew Kroner was going to come back. He had to. With his collection impounded, he had nothing left of his work, so this is a holy site to him."

"And what happened after you got here?"

"I waited. He came ... and then ..." Veck hesitated, his brows going tight as a knot before one hand came up and rubbed his temple. "Shit ..."


"I can't remember." He looked her square in the eye again. "I can't remember anything after he showed up, and that's the God's honest. One minute he was coming through the woods, and the next? There was blood everywhere."

"May I see your hands, Detective?" When he held them out, they were rock steady ... and unmarked with cuts or abrasions. No blood on the palms, the fingertips, the nails. "Did you assess the victim or intervene with him in some way prior to or after calling nine-one-one?"

"I took my leather jacket off and put it to his neck. It wasn't going to help, but I did it anyway."

"Are you carrying any weapons other than your gun?"

"My knife. It's on my - "

She put her hand on his arm to stop his reaching around. "Let me take a look."

Nodding, he pivoted on his boot heel. In the light from the ambulance, the nasty-looking blade holstered at the small of his back was a laceration waiting to happen.

"May I remove this weapon, Detective?"

"Have at it."

Taking a set of vinyl gloves out of her backpack, she snapped them on and went for the dagger. As she tugged to loosen the snap, his body didn't shift at all. She might as well have been disarming a statue.

The knife was clean and dry as a whistle.

Lifting it up to her nose, she inhaled. No scent of astringent as if he'd scrubbed it in a hurry.

As he looked over his shoulder, the torsion in his body made his shoulders seem huge, and for no good reason, she realized she was eye-to-eye with his pecs. At five-foot-six, she was of average height, but next to him she felt like she'd shrunk to miniature.

"I'm going to confiscate this, if you don't mind?" She was going to take his gun as well, but given the injuries ... the blade was what she really wanted from him.

"Not at all."

As she took a plastic bag out of her sack, she said, "What do you think happened here."

"Someone ripped him apart, and I think it was me."

That stopped her, but not because she thought it was an admission of any kind - she just didn't expect anyone under these circumstances to be so honest.

At that moment, an unmarked pulled into the parking lot along with two squad cars. "Your partner's arrived," she said. "But the sergeant wants me to lead the investigation to avoid any possible conflicts of interest."

"Not a problem."

"Will you consent to my taking samples from under your nails?"

font size="3">"Yes."

She shifted the pack in front again and took out a Swiss army knife, along with some smaller plastic bags.

"You're very organized, Officer," Veck said.

"I don't like not being prepared. Please hold out your right hand."

She made fast work, starting with the pinkie. His nails were cut short, but not manicured, and there was very little under any of them.

"Do you have a background in detective work?" Veck asked.



When she was finished, she glanced up ... and immediately had to downshift from his midnight blue eyes to somewhere in his chin vicinity. "Would you like another coat, Detective? It's cold out here."

"I'm fine."

If you were bleeding from a chest wound, would you take a damn Band-Aid? she wondered. Or would you tough-guy it until there was no plasma left in your veins?

He'd tough-guy it, she thought. Definitely.

"I want the medics to look you over - "

"I'm fine - "

"That would be an order, Detective. You look like your head hurts."

At that moment, de la Cruz emerged from his car, and as he came over, he looked grim faced and weary. Word had it he'd already lost a partner a couple of years ago; he obviously wasn't psyched at the retread, even if it was for a different reason.

"Excuse me," she said to them both. "I'm going to snag one of the medics."

Except when she got over to the two men, they were in the process of transferring Kroner onto the gurney, and it was clear they couldn't spare even a minute. "What are his chances?"

"Bad," the one who was bagging him said. "But we'll do our best, Officer."

"I know you will."

The gurney's supports were extended so that the thing was at waist height, and just before they wheeled away, she took a mental snapshot. Kroner looked like he'd been pulled from the steaming wreck of a car, his face mangled as if he hadn't been wearing a seat belt and had gone through the window.

Reilly glanced back at Veck.

Lot of holes in this scene, she thought. Especially given that he believed he'd been the attacker. But there was no way to do that much damage and get cleaned up this fast in the woods. Besides, he didn't look like he'd been in any altercation at all - there was no way you could soap-and-water away bruises and scratches.

The question was ... who had done it?

As if he could feel her eyes on him, Veck's head cranked around, and when their stares met, everything disappeared: she might as well have been all alone with him ... and standing not fifteen yards away, but fifteen inches.

From out of nowhere, a welling heat boiled up in her body, the kind of thing that, if she'd been indoors, she'd have told herself was the result of standing under a heat duct. As it was, she justified the flush as being an adrenal response to stress.

Stress, damn it. Not sexual attraction.

Reilly broke the connection by calling out to the newly arrived uniforms, "Would you tape us up?"

"Roger that, Officer."

Right, time to get back to work: That brief spike of wholly inappropriate attraction was not going to get in the way of her doing her job. She was far too levelheaded, for one thing, and for another, her professional integrity demanded nothing less. She also had no intention of being on the man's very long list of adoring fans. She was going to take care of business, and leave the Moon Pie eyes to all the others.

Besides, guys like Veck didn't go for women like her, and that was just fine. She was far more interested in work than in showing her legs, puffing her hair, and competing in the date Olympics. Brittany - spelled Britnae, a.k.a. the office hottie - could have him and keep him if she wanted.

In the meantime, Reilly was going to see whether or not the son had lived up to the father's horrors.