The sheets were soaked in blood.
Stella stared at them in shock, then glanced down at her
trembling hands. More blood. On her hands. Her fingers.
It was still wet.
Then she saw the man.
Moonlight streaked his face, a golden outline of his still
form stark against the bloodstained sheets. Nausea rose to
her throat, the room swirling.
He was lying beside her. Half naked. Brown hair. Average
Except blood oozed from his mouth. And his chest had
turned crimson, a red stain spreading across his torso.
The stench of body odors assaulted her, and a scream
bubbled in her throat. She scrambled backward off the bed,
panic clawing at her. Her foot hit a gun and sent it
skittering to the floor. She jerked it up, turning it over
in horror as she realized the man had been shot with it.
Her heart pounded as she glanced back at him again.
Whoever he was, maybe he was still alive.
But he wasn't breathing. His eyes were wide open, glued to
the ceiling in the cold shock of death.
Suddenly the door burst open, and a policeman raced in,
his weapon drawn. Stella froze.
The officer took one look at the dead man, then her, and
his ruddy face went white. "Don't move, ma'am."
Her hand shook violently, the gun bobbing up and down as
she realized how the scenario appeared. "I â€”"
"Put the gun down," he barked.
"But Iâ€¦I don't understand."
His tone hardened. "Now. Slowly lower the weapon to the
Shock and fear washed over her as she did as he instructed.
"Raise your hands in the air."
She swallowed hard, then lifted her hands in surrender as
he trained his gun on her. It was obvious that he thought
she'd killed the man in the bed.
Only she had no idea what had happened.
LUKE DEVLIN'S phone trilled, the sound cutting into the
silence of the night as if announcing trouble. He reached
for it, one foot already sliding off the side of the bed,
his mind playing the guessing game as to the nature of the
call. A new case. An old one. Somebody else found dead.
Something mysterious happening at Nighthawk Island. More
bioengineering related to terrorism and chemical warfare.
Their newest undercover plot â€” or maybe the feds with
information on who had killed his partner J.T. Osborne
last year and made it look like a suicide.
Or something about his wife's disappearance.
He scrubbed a hand over his face, wishing he'd had at
least an hour or two's worth of sleep. But sleep eluded
him these days. So he welcomed work to relieve the pain
and restlessness. "Special Agent Devlin."
"Devlin, this is Lieutenant Rawlins of the Savannah Police
"I just got a call from one of my officers, Detective
Black. They found your wife."
His heart thundered in his chest. Stella had been found.
Time vaulted to a standstill. For the past year, he'd
searched endlessly. Even as a suspect himself, he'd pushed
the cops and feds for the truth. They thought he'd crossed
the line on this one.
But Luke Devlin never crossed the line. Not for anyone.
Just as he didn't believe that J.T. had been corrupt,
Eventually clues had turned up that made them believe
Stella had left of her own accord. That she was alive and
well, moving from one place to another. That she didn't
want to be reunited with him or to be found. But her
disappearance had stamped a black mark on his career. Too
many questions left unanswered. Too much doubt and
suspicion for anyone to completely trust him.
Especially after all the trouble with J.T.
Although the police had officially deemed his part-ner's
death a suicide, and had called off the search for Stella,
Luke hadn't given up.
He had to solve the mystery around J.T.'s death. He'd been
undercover at CIRP, getting close to finding out their
latest experiments when he'd died. Luke needed to know
what had happened to his wife on their honeymoon.
Luke cleared his throat, collecting himself. "Where is
"What?" His hand tightened around the phone. Was this some
kind of joke? "What's going on?"
"You can meet Detective Adam Black when you get there,"
Lieutenant Rawlins said.
The officer started to hang up, but Luke needed more
information. "Wait. Just tell me â€” is she â€¦ alive?"
A long hesitation stretched over the line, riddled with
tension. Heat from the open window brushed his neck, and
he broke out in a cold sweat.
"Yes, but, Devlin, there's something else you need to
know." Rawlins paused, the scent of death and fear filled
"She's going to be charged with murder."
The breath whooshed from Luke's chest. Moving on instincts
so natural, he didn't contemplate his actions, he closed
the phone, yanked on his jeans, grabbed a shirt and jogged
to his car. His mind raced while he cut through the
streets of Savannah. Though it was midnight, tourists
crowded the streets, Saturday night partiers in full
swing. Booze and music floated through the humid summer
air from River Street, a cruise ship had docked in town
creating more chaos in the summer atmosphere. The roar of
a siren in the distance reminded him that crimes had been
at an all-time-high for the area, the closing of the
bizarre suicide cases a while back having added more hype
to the mysterious happenings at Nighthawk Island.
Questions rattled through his head, the same ones that had
haunted him the past year. Where had Stella been all this
time? Why had she left him on their wedding night? Had
their marriage been some kind of scam? Had she been ill
and decided not to burden him? Had she decided that she
couldn't stay married to him, that he was some kind of
cold, FBI agent who didn't know how to treat a wife? Or
had she been in some kind of trouble, something she was
afraid to confess to him?
But if she'd left of her own free will, why had there been
blood on her wedding dress? That one element had bothered
him, kept him searching for her, kept him awake each night
with disturbing dreams and images.
And if she had been in trouble, why hadn't she attempted
to contact him sometime during the last year?
He maneuvered around traffic and a handful of pedestrians
leaving a blues bar, then sped onto the road leading to
the motel, leaving the historic side of Savannah with its
town squares, haunted cemeteries and classy bed-and-
breakfasts behind. He continued on, threading his way to
the outskirts, to a rinky-dink motel that catered to low-
rent patrons and truckers, ones who didn't mind bug-
infested rooms and two-bit hookers.
What was Stella doing at a place of this caliber? And why
had Rawlins said they were going to arrest her for murder?
Had she been held captive? Had she become involved with
another man and gotten in over her head?
He approached the motel room with a mixture of trepidation
and excitement. Finally he'd glean some answers. Learn the
truth. Get closure.
Look into her eyes and know why she'd put him through hell
the last year. Why she hadn't loved him enough to stay
The blue lights of the Savannah police car swirled through
the darkness, the neon lights of the Sunset Motel blinking
as he parked. One letter was missing in the word Sunset so
it read the Sunet, and the building was so dilapidated it
should have been condemned. A smattering of rattletrap
cars filled the lot, a group of spectators already hovered
in the parking lot, smoking cigarettes and mumbling,
obviously aware their peaceful night had been interrupted
He barreled his sedan into a parking spot, killed the
engine, then grabbed his badge and flashed it at the
locals working to secure the scene.
"Special Agent Devlin."
The squatty officer at the bottom of the steps spoke
first. "Detective Black said you'd be here."
Luke nodded, grimacing. The man obviously knew about his
past. As Luke climbed the steps to the second floor, he
dodged a reporter and cameraman. The motel rooms were
lined up, each with its own outdoor access to the balcony.
The doors were painted an avocado-green that had faded to
a pea-green color from the blistering sun and relentless
Seconds later, he stopped at the doorway, his gaze
skimming past the security guard talking to one of the
local cops. Through the open doorway, he cataloged details
of the scene.
Blood was splattered everywhere, soaking the sheets and
dotting the stained gray carpet. The foul odors of death
hit him. The mumblings of policemen at work. A crime scene
crew that had just arrived.
He saw Detective Black inside, then his gaze landed on
Stella, and his heart literally seemed to stop beating.
She sat stone-stiff in one of the motel chairs, her hands
knotted, her normally olive complexion a pasty-white,
while Black questioned her. Luke hadn't imagined the gut-
wrenching reality of seeing her alive, in the flesh.
The hair that had been buttery-blond was now jet-black,
not short and layered as when he'd known her, but a long
tangle of ebony waves that sent a bolt of surprise through
him. Surprise and sexual desire. He had wanted Stella the
first moment he'd met her. The moment he'd looked into her
pale green eyes.
She'd been leaning against a bar wearing a red dress that
hugged her curves and a pair of rhinestone earrings that
had dangled down to her shoulders. Although surrounded by
gaping men, she'd appeared disinterested. Instead she'd
looked lost and lonely.
After the death of his partner and the questions
surrounding J.T.'s final days, Luke had been vulnerable
himself. He'd always admired the way Osborne had juggled
his career and a wife, and for the first time in his life,
Luke had wanted the same.
In an uncharacteristic move, he'd bought Stella a drink.
Three vodka martinis later, and they'd crawled into bed
for some of the steamiest sex in his life. Stella had
completely poleaxed him with her odd mixture of shy
vulnerability and her bold lack of inhibitions about her
A month later, they'd eloped and that blissful month of
premarriage heaven had turned into the year from hell.
He cleared this throat, struggled for calm and entered the
room. An eerie quiet descended as if the black cloud that
had been following him had swallowed the light. Two
officers parted, their stares burning his back as he
walked toward her. They knew who he was. Knew this was his
When he stopped, only a breath away from her, he expected
recognition. He waited, bracing himself, tamping down his
She looked up, and he stared into her light green eyes,
was caught anew by the sensuality and sweetness he'd once
seen there. A bruise darkened her cheek, though, and a
cold look of horror filled those crystalline eyes, as well
as a dead emptiness that shook him to the core.
Yes, it was Stella.
But not the Stella he remembered.
She didn't speak, jump up and greet him, or offer an
explanation. Didn't acknowledge that she was his wife.
Didn't move to touch him, to hold him or beg him for
He had to clear his throat twice to make it work. "Stella?"
He waited, his lungs tight. "Yes." An odd, almost distant
look glazed her expression, then her voice came out in a
low whisper. "Who are you?"