Deirdre Dore writes: The first time I saw the cover of this book, I gasped. I felt like the girl on the cover was the exact image of the character in my book, down to the expression on her face. And then to see my name on it and think back to the first time the idea for the story popped into my head; I was just overwhelmed. Thanks to my wonderful editor, Alex Lewis, and the art designers at Pocket, my tiny idea has become something wonderful, something I get to share with everyone. I absolutely love the cover of this book and hope everyone enjoys reading it as much as I enjoy sharing it with all of you.

 

 

Strings of Fate cover

Snatching a butcher knife from the block on her kitchen counter, Chris tiptoed through her living room toward the door. She’d seen enough movies to know better than to stand in front of the peephole, so she stood to the side and leaned over to look through it, which was almost tragic, since she stumbled and nearly fell on the knife.

“Miss Pascal, open the door. FBI.”

FBI? Chris mouthed. What the hell would the FBI want with her?

She called through the door, “Oh, yeah? Hold your ID up to the peephole.” Not that she’d know a real FBI badge from a fake one, but you had to go through the motions, otherwise you deserved it for being the stupid girl who opened the door to a complete stranger.

He did, and Chris did her best to check the badge for authenticity, going to her tiptoes to see more clearly.

She waited a minute, then shrugged. She hadn’t done anything that she could think of, not recently anyway, but maybe this was connected to the information the nonprofit had sent into the FBI office in Atlanta yesterday.

“Miss Pascal?” The voice, deep and a little gravelly, sounded impatient.

“Yeah, sorry.” She shook off her strange thoughts, realizing that she’d kept the FBI standing on her landing, then undid the deadbolt, unlatched the chain, and opened the door.

There were two men in suits standing on her doormat, which was long and narrow, and featured a dachshund wearing a hat. It had been a gift from Tavey. Behind the men was a short landing that connected the staircase leading down to the next level to her door. She’d put a mirror on the wall to catch the light from the tall, narrow windows on each floor.

Chris had met plenty of FBI agents, usually when leads that they’d turned in had been crucial pieces of evidence in one case or another. Mostly they’d seemed to regard their little group, dubbed the Mistresses of Fate on a local blog, as a pain in the ass.

These men seemed likely to agree. They were looking at her suspiciously, their bodies tense, hands near their weapons.

“Ma’am, you want to put down the knife?”

Chris looked at the knife in her hands. “Shit. Yeah. Sorry.” She looked around for a place to put it. “Should I just . . .” She waved with the knife toward the kitchen.

“Just put it on the floor,” the Fed—the younger one—ordered, “and take a step back.”

“Okay, okay.” Chris bent down and set the knife on the rug at the entrance and stepped away from it.

He came through the door, a tall, broad-shouldered man with freckles, sandy red hair, big dark glasses like Buddy Holly, fantastic cheekbones, and a strong, well-defined jaw. He was the nerd who got even with the popular crowd by becoming a Fed, the skinny freckled dork who’d hit a growth spurt and now carried a gun and towered over people. He picked up the knife and looked for a place to set it down in her messy apartment.

Chris backed deeper into her living room. The floor plan of her apartment was fairly open. The door to the interior staircase opened to her living room, but there was another door, just to the right as you came in, that opened to a wrought-iron balcony and the same switchback staircase that the girls had used to leave the yoga studio. The other side of the apartment housed the kitchen, which didn’t have a wall separating it from the living room, next to it the bathroom, and then her bedroom, which was just down a narrow hall toward the back of the building.

“Miss Christina Pascal?” The other cop, also a big guy, older, kind of looked like he’d played one of the extras inGoodfellas. He had a broad face, olive skin, and thick, fleshy lips. He was interesting-looking, that was for sure. Freckle-Face was less intimidating; she’d bet he played good cop. She looked at them expectantly, waiting for their opening line.

The cop rephrased, “Are you Miss Christina Pascal?”

“That’s what it says on my driver’s license.”

“Is that your name or not?” The young one sounded liked he’d rather slap a pair of handcuffs on her than make nice. Guess she was wrong about the good-cop thing.

“Yeah, jeez. That’s my name. Like you didn’t know that already.” Chris shrugged and stretched out a little, pulling her right arm across her chest and stretching out her shoulder blade.

“What are you doing?” Freckles asked, but the other cop made a face, sniffing.

“Is something—”

Chris whirled and jumped toward the kitchen. “Shit, the mac!”

Freckles moved his hands toward his weapon when she turned, but she ignored him, dashing into the kitchen.

The plastic spoon she’d been using to stir it had melted into a chemical-accident-smelling mess, but, even worse, the mac was ruined.

She turned off the burner and dumped the whole thing in the sink, which was conveniently next to the stove. Right next to the stove. Her kitchen was certifiably tiny.

The Feds had followed Chris onto the tile that separated the kitchen area from the living room and seemed to be examining the exposed brick wall, the ancient appliances, and the large window that opened to a view of the town circle below. She’d shoved a tiny table and two chairs under it and decorated it with a vase she’d made in seventh-grade pottery class that was, in a word, hideous.

She went to the window, pushing the table as far out of the way as she could, struggling a little because the window was finicky, tried to lift it open to clear the smoke from the room before it set off the fire alarm. Freckles came and helped her—reluctantly, it seemed, but he helped, his man-strength and greater height making short work of the task.

He stepped back when he was finished, as if she had some kind of contagious disease, and rubbed his fingers as if they were dusty. It wouldn’t surprise her—a good housekeeper she was not. Ironic, since her mother was known as the finest housekeeper in Fate, a dubious title, if you asked Chris, but one her mother was proud of. Of course, after having a child with her previous employer, anything was a step up.

It was pretty crowded in her kitchen with the two men inside it, even though there was plenty of space in the living room behind them. She realized that she couldn’t recall ever having two men over at the same time, or at least not any who seemed to take up this much space. The kitchen was plenty big enough for her—she was pretty compact.

“Miss Pascal, we need to ask you some questions,” Freckles said finally, snatching up one of her kitchen towels and wiping his fingers. She decided not to tell him that she’d used that towel to wipe up some milk she’d spilled a week ago. He’d figure it out.

“Okay, shoot.” She folded her arms over her chest and lifted one foot to her thigh in a modified tree pose, then felt the need to clarify. “I mean, ask, don’t shoot, not me anyway.”

“Not in here.” The big Fed coughed, his eyes watering.

“Okay, the living room,” Christina agreed, and waved them backward.

Tavey called Chris’s decorating garage-sale chic, a term she’d coined to describe the eclectic collection of furniture that Chris had gathered from well-meaning friends and church garage sales. Chris felt her furniture was friendly, even if the couch was a velvet floral monstrosity that her grandmother had owned and not one of the tables matched—matching was overrated.

She gestured for the men to take the couch along the wall next to the door, while she sat facing them in a gold overstuffed armchair covered in a crocheted afghan. She’d positioned the furniture so that no matter people sat, if they turned their heads they could see out the windows, which spanned the length of the wall toward the kitchen and rose almost to the top of her sixteen-foot ceilings. As far as she was concerned, the best part of her apartment was the view of the tree-covered mountain ridges that insulated their town. Gauzy lacy curtains framed them, she rarely closed the curtains all the way. If she was going to be in her apartment most of the time, she didn’t want to feel closed in.

The men looked decidedly uncomfortable on the extremely floral couch. Chris didn’t blame them; the scent of old lady clung to the thing no matter what she did. She’d considered borrowing one of Tavey’s hound dogs to see if she could get the smelly beasts to dog the place up. Anything was better than that too-much-perfume-and-baby-powder mess.

“Miss Pascal—”

“Hey, what are your names?” Christina interrupted.

The older guy introduced himself first. “I’m Special Agent Scott Midaugh, and this is Special Agent Ryan Helmer.”

“Okay.” She nodded. “So what’s up?”

“Miss Pascal, we’re dealing with a serial murder investigation. You may have heard about it on the news.”

Chris shook her head. “Sorry, I don’t watch the news.”

“Ever?” Freckles sounded incredulous.

The older agent, Midaugh, ignored him. “Miss Pascal, we’re here to find out what you know about an unsub that we’ve been hunting. I understand you don’t watch the news, but you may have heard. The media is calling him . . . the Boyfriend,” he concluded with distaste.

Chris felt it again, the zing that raised all the hairs on her body. The Boyfriend. Raquel had mentioned the case—she remembered now. Some man was forming relationships with women online and then viciously assaulting and murdering them.

“The Boyfriend,” she repeated, wondering again why saying the words sent a shiver down her spine tonight.

Freckles—Agent Helmer—stood up and paced in front of her. “Miss Pascal, we know you’re not as ignorant as you seem. You have contacts in both the Atlanta PD and the local sheriff’s office. You work with other police departments regularly in your private mission to find missing children. The evidence shows that you have a direct connection to this person, even implies that you could be helping him.”

Chris was about to get huffy about the ignorant comment when his insinuation hit. “Helping him? How?”

The two Feds looked at each other, frustration coloring their expressions. “You’re creating him.”