Read At Risk Online

Authors: Judith E French

At Risk

CRITICS PRAISE JUDITH E. FRENCH!

THE BARBARIAN

“Combining strong, fully developed characters, colorful descriptive locales, and a beautifully haunting romance,
The Barbarian
is a must-read.”

—Midwest Book Review


The Barbarian
is an exhilarating ride through the deserts of Egypt as a woman and a man fight for all they believe in against the might of a king.”

—A Romance Review

“This sequel to
The Conqueror
is packed full of vivid historical details that will transport the reader back to mystical Egypt. A great read!”

—The Best Reviews

THE CONQUEROR

“Historical fiction fans will have a feast!”

—Romantic Times

“Judith French has skillfully crafted not only a top-notch romance but an excellent work of historical fiction.”

—A Romance Review

“Don’t miss
The Conqueror
.”

—Romance Reviews Today

“Extremely compelling . . . [this book is] a difficult one to put down.”

—LikesBooks.com


The Conqueror
is a strong historical tale . . . action packed.”

—Midwest Book Review

 

 

 

 

A DEADLY GAME

The Game Master regretted that it had been impossible to remove Tracy’s body from the scene. A single finger hardly qualified as a trophy of . . . of . . . He chewed his lower lip thoughtfully. Ah, yes, a trophy of
the sophomore.

Poor little sophomore, a mere pawn sacrificed in a larger game, that of his next quarry,
the professor.
He had great hopes for her. “Yes.” The Game Master smiled. “With a little assistance, the professor might prove my finest and most satisfying adversary.”

The third crab pot lay some distance away. He’d saved the best for last, and anticipation made his hands tremble as he pulled up the wire cage containing
Number Thirty-six
’s skull.

“Ah,” he crooned as the water drained away, leaving his prize gleaming ivory in the mist. “So many of you waiting for me . . . So many women, and all I have to do is collect them.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other
Leisure
books by Judith E. French:

THE BARBARIAN

THE CONQUEROR

 

A
T
R
ISK

J
UDITH E.
F
RENCH

For my brother, Paul F. Donahue, Lt., Delaware State Police, retired, with love and thanks for answering my endless questions and for your unfailing support through the years.

DORCHESTER PUBLISHING

Published by

Dorchester Publishing Co., Inc.
200 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10016

Copyright © 2005 by Judith E. French

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, without the written permission of the publisher, except where permitted by law. The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Trade ISBN: 978-1-4285-1734-9
E-book ISBN: 978-1-4285-1726-4

First Dorchester Publishing, Co., Inc. edition: June 2005

The “DP” logo is the property of Dorchester Publishing Co., Inc.

Printed in the United States of America.

Visit us online at
www.dorchesterpub.com
.

Contents

Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

A
T
R
ISK
Prologue

Somerville College, Dover, Delaware

Tracy Fleming stopped outside of her history professor’s office and glanced at her watch. She was a few minutes early for her seven-o’clock appointment, but the door was open several inches. Hesitantly, she knocked.

“Good morning,” called a muffled voice. “Come in.”

Tracy pushed open the door and blinked. No lights were on, and the blinds were closed, making the room dim after the brightly lit hallway. “Thanks for seeing me on such short notice.” She stepped inside and shifted her load of library books to one hip. “It’s important, or I wouldn’t bother you.”

“Back here.”

Thinking the professor must be using the copy machine in an alcove in the far corner of the office, Tracy moved past the desk. “It’s about my research paper,” she said. “I know it’s due on Friday, but I’ve got this jerk ex-boyfriend, and—”

The tall figure rose out of the shadows like a malevolent ghost.

Tracy opened her mouth to scream, but a fist slammed into her midsection, knocking the air out of her, making it impossible to utter more than a strangled whimper. She would have fallen from the force of the blow, but her attacker lunged past and seized her from behind.

One hard hand clamped over her mouth, and he leaned close to whisper in her ear. “Game’s over, Sophomore. You lose.”

Terror lent her strength. She drove an elbow into his ribs and tried to wrench free, but he arched her neck back and slashed once across her throat. Tracy felt an odd sensation of cold against her bared flesh as pinwheels of light exploded in her brain. A tide of blackness flooded her head, and then the wave receded, leaving nothing at all.

He released her, thrusting the body away so that it tumbled forward onto the carpet. Thin ribbons of light seeping between the blinds revealed a splash of liquid on his glove. For an instant, he regarded the crimson color like another man might a rare jewel. Then he smiled, lowered his head, and licked the drops from the back of his hand.

The blood was warm and slightly salty.

He liked the taste.

Chapter One

Somerville College, Dover, Delaware

Liz Clarke glanced at her watch as she hurried down the hall toward her office in Jacobs Hall. Her early class began at eight on Mondays, but she was already forty minutes late for her seven-o’clock appointment with a student in her popular Heroines of the American Revolution course.

Liz hated being late for anything. She’d deliberately set her alarm an hour early so she’d be on time for Tracy’s appointment. Why had her car picked this morning to refuse to start?

Shifting her briefcase and purse to her left hand, Liz stopped to find her office key before realizing that her door was slightly ajar. Puzzled, she stepped inside and flicked the switch. The room remained dark. The only light came filtered through the closed blinds.

“Tracy?” A faint sense of unease made Liz cautious. “Is anyone here?” The room had an unpleasant, almost sweet odor. She hesitated, letting her eyes adjust to the gloom before she dropped her briefcase on the nearest chair and walked to the desk.

Glancing at the floor, Liz stopped short as she saw the dark, wet pool on the carpet. Water . . . No, not water, something thicker and darker. A chill washed over her as she took one more step and saw a slender hand. Blood? Liz rushed forward, took in the sprawled body of Tracy Fleming, throat slashed from ear to ear, and screamed.

Trembling, Liz dropped to her knees beside the young woman. She seized the girl’s limp wrist, desperately seeking a pulse.

A man burst into the room. “Liz? What’s wrong? I heard you—holy shit!”

Normally, Cameron would have been the last person she’d have wanted in her office. Now, even the grad student’s face was a relief.

He froze, his handsome features nearly as bloodless as Tracy’s. “Oh, God,” he babbled. “Who? God, there’s blood everywhere! Her throat . . . Holy shit! Is that Fleming?”

“I can’t find a pulse.” Liz gripped the girl’s hand. “Call 911. Get security.” Her voice came out in a rasp. Liz felt the wet carpet through her linen slacks and realized that she was kneeling in blood. She supposed the thought should have sickened her, but she was too numb to care.

“What are you doing? Don’t touch her!” Cameron admonished with macabre fascination as he dialed from her desk phone. “You’re contaminating a crime scene. The authorities—hello, yes. I’d like to report a murder. You heard me correctly. A murder.”

Dazed, Liz sat on the floor beside Tracy’s lifeless body as Cameron calmly spoke with the 911 operator and then dialed campus security. Liz hadn’t known that a body so delicate could contain so much blood. Or that Tracy could be such an unnatural shade of white and yet still warm to the touch.

She lifted the girl’s head to her lap and felt again for a pulse, this time in the hollow below her ear, just above her bloody throat. Nothing. Liz had taken advanced CPR classes, but this was beyond her ability. She could do nothing but hold Tracy and wait.

She had no conception of time passing.

“Elizabeth?”

Michael’s voice cut through Liz’s stupor. She glanced at the open doorway and sighed in relief.

“Elizabeth? Are you hurt?”

“No.” Liz smoothed a clump of Tracy’s stained and matted hair. “But I think she’s dead.”

“I told Liz she wasn’t supposed to touch the evidence.” Cameron raised both palms and backed away from the desk, as if distancing himself from her ignorant blunder.

Michael didn’t break eye contact with her as he rolled his wheelchair into the dim room. “Did you find her just like this?”

The knot in Liz’s throat made it hard to speak. She nodded, gently lowering the girl’s head to the sticky, wet carpet, turning Tracy’s face so that her blond hair hid the gaping slash across her throat.

“And you’re all right?” Michael asked.

“She’s dead, isn’t she?” Liz stood up and swayed, suddenly feeling as though she’d had too much to drink.

“Of course she’s dead.” Cameron’s voice was scathing as he ventured out of the corner. “Any fool can see the girl’s dead. Her throat’s been cut. Oh, shit. Her left hand. Where’s her finger?”

Liz couldn’t stop herself from looking. Someone had hacked off the ring finger of Tracy’s left hand.

“I should have been here.” Her words tumbled out . . . only half coherent as she stumbled to Michael’s chair. “I was late. My car wouldn’t start. Amelia had to drive me . . .” She heard a high-pitched buzzing as the room began to spin. “If I’d been here on time . . .”

“This isn’t your fault,” Michael insisted firmly, his tone calming.

“She had no business touching the body. I told her—”

“Whitaker,” Michael cut Cameron off. “We don’t need you here. Go out into the hall and keep everyone away until the police arrive.”

“Security’s doing that. What do you think, Captain? Attempted rape?”

Michael’s gaze hardened. “Go to the front entrance and direct the responding officers to this wing. And stay close. They may want to question you.”

“Yes, but—”

“Now, Whitaker.”

Cameron vanished.

“She’s beyond your help.” Michael clasped Liz’s blood-smeared hand. “You look faint. Maybe you should sit down.”

She swallowed, trying to dissolve the constriction in her throat, hoping the floor would stop swaying under her feet. “I’m okay,” she murmured, more to convince herself than him. “I’m all right.”

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