Beverly Hills Detective Art Murry has a hot thing going with Medical Examiner Mary Éclair that he hopes will lead to happily ever after. But following a brutal attack by a serial killer, where her hands are crippled and her confidence destroyed, Éclair takes a leave of absence—not only from the job, but Murry as well.
In an effort to help Murry, who’s depressed and hitting the bottle, Billy Kidman, his partner, drags him on a Caribbean cruise. On board, Murry’s drinking escalates and he’s convinced he’s hallucinating when he sees one of the ship’s Jamaican waiters transform into a giant wolf.
By the time he sobers up, the ship’s docked in New Orleans and Kidman has been arrested for the grisly murder of another passenger found floating in the ship’s hot tub, her throat torn out.
Murry, who has no credible information to offer, finds himself under investigation as a possible accomplice. His refusal to discuss Éclair or what happened to her only fuels the suspicions of the local police.
Going against all protocol, Murry digs into the Jamaican waiter’s involvement with Sylvanya Benoit, a New Orleans socialite suspected of previous unsolved murders, when Kidman—now out on bail—vanishes. The only clue left behind is his blood-covered detective shield.
NOPD Detective Jean Gallan is at odds with her boss when it comes to Murry and Kidman. She believes her childhood tormentor Benoit is behind the shipboard murder and Kidman’s disappearance. But can she and Murry prove it before they both end up victims of the supernatural?
L.F. Crawford holds an M.A. in Psychology – handy in developing characters and their murderous motivations. She started writing 16 years ago and is an award-winning author of over 14 books. One of the things she enjoys most about her job is the research – which recently included a helicopter ride in a Robinson-22. Beverly Hills Voodoo, featuring Detectives Murry and Kidman – and a touch of the supernatural – was the first book in her current suspense series. The sequel, Fortune Cookie Karma followed and, Bad Moon Rising, the third book in the series is now out in hardcover. Three of her books were nominated for the Romantic Times Magazine Reviewers Choice award for Best Mystery. Two have been on the publisher’s bestseller list. Her books have won the Eppie for Best Mystery and been a finalist for Best Mystery three times.
Moo, Murry thought as deck hands herded the passengers to the main level of the ship for the lifeboat drill. The ship was big as a floating island and crammed with tourists. He stood in the long line, the life vest cinched tighter than a noose around his neck, wishing he’d said no to the ridiculous idea of a Caribbean cruise with 2,500 strangers. Tracking down serial killers or practically getting his head shot off would’ve been better than this.
On the other hand, his twin was in his element. Who would have thought there‘d be opera groupies on the high seas, and that they’d be swarming Lance for autographs? Lance’s baseball cap and Raybans couldn’t disguise his Pavarotti bulk, but it did make it harder to see that he and Murry were twins—a fact Murry appreciated as his brother’s popularity grew.
Although Lance looked like a stuffed sausage in the life vest, he didn’t seem to mind. He smiled and signed everything from CDs to shirts with dramatic flair, the women squeezing between passengers with “excuse me” and “sorry” while a cruise staffer droned on about emergency procedures.
In blatant disregard of instructions, Billy Kidman, Murry’s partner at Beverly Hills Police Department, tugged his vest over his head and lowered it to his side. His blond hair was windblown like a haystack, sticking out every which way. He smoothed his caterpillar mustache and flashed his dimples at a curvaceous young brunette in the next group. She smiled back before turning to her friend and studiously ignoring the Kid.
“When do we start partying?” Billy said.
“After they explain what to do if we hit an iceberg,” Murry said dryly.
“You two are worse than an old married couple,” Lance said.
Murry nodded. “Yeah, Billy’s my trophy wife.”
“You may now remove your vests and return to your cabins.” A rich, Jamaican-accented voice had them all turning toward the nearest doorway.
The speaker, whose nametag read Thomas Quaco Samson, had the deep black skin of an Islander and enough dignity and charisma to be the captain, but he wasn’t wearing the insignia—only the crisp white golf shirt and navy slacks of a staffer.
Lance forged a path to the stairs, Billy and Murry following.
Murry inadvertently brushed shoulders with Samson and an uneasy tingle shot down his arm. He’d had that kind of feeling before, usually just before experiencing something worse, like visions of dismemberment and murder.
He tried to squeeze from the line surging down the stairs, to get another look at Samson, but only managed to twist his head in time to see Samson disappear in the throng.
Shaking off his uneasiness, Murry descended to the staterooms on the M deck. Across the aisle from Lance’s celebrity cabin with a panoramic view of Florida’s receding coastline, Murry and Billy shared a small, windowless no-frills cabin befitting their cop salaries.
Thirty minutes later, as the ocean liner cleared the last of the Florida real estate, they all met three decks up on the Lido for lunch near the pool. In the tropical humidity, Murry’s polo shirt and shorts stuck to his back. He glanced at the widening expanse of blue-green ocean on the horizon. The color reminded him of his girlfriend’s eyes, and the leaden feeling returned to his stomach.
“You going to enter the talent show?” the Kid asked, nudging Murry’s arm.
“Only if drinking or target-shooting are talents.” Murry eyed the Kid’s exuberant expression and wondered if he’d ever been that young. When he was 23, Billy’s age, his fiancée had been murdered in a robbery gone bad. Though the killer had been caught, it had driven him to switch from Psychology to Criminal Law, to follow in his late father’s footsteps.
“If I can find a dance partner, I’m going to waltz her into her cabin for a private talent show.” Billy grinned. “You could sing with Lance, Murry. Knock everyone’s socks off.”
Lance cleared his throat, some signal passing between him and Billy that Murry took as a bad omen.
“I’m not signing up for some half-baked talent show,” Murry insisted, “and I’m not singing under any conditions.” He’d made it clear at the get-go, he was coming along for the ride, nothing more.
“Come on, Murry. Lighten up,” said Billy. “Have some fun for a change.”
Murry lifted an eyebrow, then sipped his scotch. Another ten of these and he’d be feeling immune to any innuendo from Billy or Lance. He shoved back from the small table and headed for the bar. Someone had a boombox blaring out the Stones’ song about “time being on his side.” It made Murry feel a hundred years old and so damn sad that he could hardly stand it. He ordered two more drinks, downed one in ten seconds, then carried the other back to the table. His pain was beginning to recede.
Billy was ogling two young women in bikinis, a cigarette dangling from his lips. He saw Murry and said, “Want to catch some sun? Take a swim?”
Murry shook his head. “Go ahead. I’ll meet you at dinner.”
Billy shoved off after the nearest babe.
“Another scotch and your liver will need a life vest,” Lance said, worry in his eyes.
Murry would have liked to avoid his twin’s well-intentioned concerns, but not enough to pretend he was okay. Because he wasn’t okay. Scarlett had divorced him for his old partner Tack. A year later, Murry had discovered happiness with Mary Éclair. But now she was in Iowa … and from the looks of things, wasn’t coming back. Losing Scarlett had hurt his ego. Losing Éclair would break his heart.
Lance stood. “Let’s explore the ship—” A sarong-wrapped fifty-ish woman interrupted with an adoring, “Aren’t you’re Lance Murry?”
Murry watched his brother brandish a black felt pen and sign his name with a flourish and a smile. The woman grinned and sashayed off, clutching her newly Lance’d cocktail napkin to her large bosom.
Murry gulped his scotch. He’d order two more to go, get blitzed in his cabin, and with any luck, sleep like the dead through dinner and the rest of the cruise.
When he didn’t get up, Lance started forward, gesturing for Murry to follow. “Come on. Let’s check out the top deck, get our bearings and some cool air.”
Murry nabbed another drink, then reluctantly followed. “I doubt there is any cooler air,” he said, observing the back of his twin’s sweat-soaked shirt. “Just more wind.”
“Wind is good,” Lance said, heading for the stairs.
“Elevators are down that way,” Murry said, pointing right.
Lance shook his head. “I’ve vowed to take the stairs this entire cruise. If I gain another pound my tux won’t fit.”
Murry followed him up the stairs. “Since when has your tux ever fit?”
“Since I started my exercise program last year and lost twenty pounds,” Lance’s voice accused Murry of not noticing. Which he hadn’t. Lance would need to lose another thirty before it showed, Murry thought—glad at least that he didn’t resemble his twin in the weight department.
Yet it pained Murry that he couldn’t muster an apology. Pained and depressed him, because last year he’d been too busy tracking a serial killer and dealing with Éclair and the aftermath of that crazy bastard’s attack to notice much of anything. Now, on what was officially called the Sun Deck, he lifted his glass to his lips and took a long, burning swallow.
“Now there’s a view,” Lance said, gesturing toward the brilliant sunset, spilling reds and oranges across the glistening expanse of blue. “Kind of takes your breath away, doesn’t it?”
Murry walked toward the jogging track. His head was buzzing, his gait a bit lopsided, and the wind brought tears to his eyes. Sweet fucking Jesus, you can’t fall apart here.
He gulped the last of his scotch and changed course, heading for the stairs, ignoring Lance calling behind him, “Art, where are you going? Art?”
The only person to call him Art besides his mother and brother, was Éclair. He found himself pulling his cell phone and punching in the Iowa number, ready to blast her with both barrels or beg her to come back. Her friend’s voice mail picked up and he slammed the cell against the deck rail, then muttered, “Fuck it” and pitched it overboard.
He went to take another swallow, but the glass was empty. It followed the cell phone into the deep blue.
Leaving Lance to a new bevy of fans, Murry headed downstairs to his cabin. Then he flopped on the bed and ordered a bottle of scotch to be delivered to his room. With every refill, he replayed Éclair’s announcement: “I’m going to Iowa to visit a college friend for a few weeks. We haven’t seen each other in five years, and now would be a good time.”
Éclair had been seated at the kitchen table, her voice more flat than casual. She hadn’t touched the omelet on her plate, hadn’t seemed to notice the bouquet of fragrant roses Murry had cut from his front yard.
At that moment, Murry had tried not to be a detective. He had kept his focus on her face, instead of looking at the angry red scars on her crippled hands where the ice picks had gone through. It had hurt him to see the dullness in green eyes that used to sparkle, despite the gruesome situations she faced as a medical examiner. It was a job she’d loved, until her near death from being crucified with ice picks. That had been four months ago, and she still hadn’t returned to work—or him.
But he had also paid a price. Looking in her eyes always did it to him, brought up the guilt. That morning, he’d swallowed it back, prepared to play the game and hating the fact neither of them were talking about the real issues. The rape. Her damaged hands. Her job.
His mind whispered, If you had just moved faster, gotten there ten minutes earlier.
You failed, Murry. Failed. Failed. Failed.
“Want some company for the flight?” he had offered.
She didn’t answer, just scooted back in the chair.
“I could fly back, stay a night, then return. Lord knows I’ve got enough vacation time.”
His attempted humor earned a strained smile. “I’m fine, Murry. I can go alone.”
Murry. It had taken them six months to call each other by their first names because they’d known each other by their last names for so long, and now she’d gone back to it. Jesus, he loved her and she was saying goodbye and he felt helpless to stop her. “I just thought—”
She shoved away from the kitchen table. “I can’t stay here forever. When I get back, I’ll find a new place, figure things out.”
He stood with her. “Don’t leave.”
Her lips trembled. “I have to. Until I know . . .”
Her jaw jutted forward. “Until I know that I can be alone without being afraid.”
He had wrapped her in his arms and felt her silent resistance for a long moment, before she hugged him back.
“Just take me to the airport, okay?” Her tears had dampened his shirt.
God help him, he had been crying too.
Grrr. Rip. Grrr.
The sound of growls and something ripping penetrated Murry’s sleep. He awakened to complete darkness, strange sounds outside the cabin door that made the hairs all over his entire body stand on end. A nightmare, he convinced himself, and didn’t resist the fatigue that dragged him back under.
An hour later, he rolled from the bed, staggered to his feet, and knocked over what sounded like a bottle. Sliding his palm over the wall and dresser, he finally found the light switch.
The light momentarily blinded him, firing a shaft of pain straight between his eyes. Stifling a groan, he made it to the toilet before retching up his guts. The sour taste of stomach acid burned his throat, and if it hadn’t put hair on the inside of his mouth, it soon would.
He squeezed his eyes shut, which failed to halt the incessant pounding inside his skull. He tentatively lifted his head from the bowl, then heaved again, and again, until nothing was left but battery juice and the beginnings of an ulcer.
Something nudged his shoulder and he about jumped out of his forty-three year old skin. “Jesus, Billy, where’d you come from?”
“Lance’s room. Drink this.”
Murry gingerly turned his head and saw a glass of what looked like tomato juice in Billy’s hand.
“No thanks.” His voice sounded like an old man’s. He cleared his throat and managed to shove to his feet, using the sink for support. “I’ll be in the shower.”
He twisted the faucet, got the spray as hot as he could stand, and stepped in, letting the water run over his head and down his shirt and Dockers. He stayed there until the jackhammers let up their rap song in his skull. After what felt like an hour, he peeled off his shirt and pants and continued standing under the spray. After what felt like another hour, he peeled off his socks and briefs.
Billy was gone by the time Murry dried off and dragged something out of the closet to wear. Was it time for dinner? Breakfast? With no window and no sun, he had no clue. He checked the corner table beneath the TV for his watch. 2:13 pm. Had he lost a whole day? He opened a bottle of water and drank a little. When his stomach didn’t protest, he swallowed more.
The door swung open, Billy shoving through, a tray in his hands. “Feeling better?”
“I was until I saw that.” Murry eyed the two slices of pepperoni pizza. Despite the hollow feeling in his gut, the smell made him nauseous.
“You missed dinner last night and breakfast this morning. Thought you might be hungry.”
Murry pulled the single chair from the desk and sank into it, then shook his head. “You go ahead.”
Not quite hiding a frown, Billy sat on the edge of his bunk, set the tray on the corner table, and polished off half a slice in one bite. “It’s all you can eat,” he said after he swallowed. “Day or night.”
“I’ll live without it,” Murry said drily, thinking he’d have a gut like Lance’s if he ate like the Kid.
“Hey, the cruise is paid for, so’s the food. Live a little, Murry.”
“I hope you’re not saying that to Lance.”
“Nope. He’s grilling the Cruise Director about the Cayman Islands.”
“I thought we were docking in New Orleans tonight.”
“We are, and there’s a Mardi Gras party on the boat at midnight. Wine, women, and—if I’m lucky—the horizontal mambo!”
“Then why’s Lance so interested in the Caymans, that he can’t wait until we get there?”
“The great diamond deals.”
Murry took another sip of water, unable to figure any connection between Lance and diamonds. Finally, he asked, “Since when does Lance care about compressed carbon?”
“Since your mom and the count decided to get married. Lance wants to get her a diamond bracelet and—”
“What!?” Murry suddenly wondered what else he’d missed from his lack of attention the last few months. He didn’t wait for an answer but strode across the hall to Lance’s cabin and banged on the door.
“He’s not there.”
Irritated, Murry stood outside Lance’s room, feeling an unfamiliar indecisiveness. After ignoring his family, why should he feel bent out of shape? Lance flew to Europe fairly often for performances. It made sense he’d be the first to know the arrogant Italian count and his mother were getting hitched. And Murry grudgingly admitted to himself that she was obviously happy, happier than she’d been with their father, although she had only focused on the best times since his death in the line of duty. And that had been twenty years ago. Had he expected her to remain single forever?
Yeah, I guess I did. The thought surprised him.
“Art, you waiting for me?”
Murry turned to face Lance. His twin’s orange and blue Hawaiian shirt gave Murry the urge to hurl again.
Lance slid the key-card in the slot and pushed open his door, ushering Murry inside. Murry watched him settle his bulk on the double bed, leaving Murry the chair. At least there’s space to move around in here, Murry thought, lots of light, and a sliding glass door to a narrow deck, complete with a small table and chairs. He felt like a cave troll in a hobbit hole sharing the tiny cabin with Billy. By the end of the cruise he’d be ready to jump overboard.
“Mom and the Count of Monte Cristo are getting married?” Murry asked.
“Next week,” Lance affirmed.
“Next week? What do you mean, next week? We won’t be back in Florida for ten days. Where the hell are they tying the knot? And why didn’t anyone bother to tell me?”
“Mom wanted to surprise you.”
Murry set his jaw. “You’re a very bad liar, Lance. Anyone ever tell you that?”
“Okay, okay. You, uh, you haven’t been yourself lately and Mom thought hearing about her wedding right now might not be such a great idea.”
“So she was what? Going to get married without telling me?”
Lance cringed at Murry’s rising tone. “She was hoping you’d be in a more receptive mood by the end of the cruise.”
Straight-up alarm hit Murry like a sledge hammer. “Tell me she’s not getting married on this ship. Tell me I’m not going to have to endure count what’s-his-name’s endless chatter about real estate and family holdings—surrounded by an ocean and twenty-five hundred gawkers.”
Lance cleared his throat. “It won’t be so bad,” he said, without much conviction.
Murry snatched up the brochure on the six ports of call, one day in each, one or two days at sea in-between. His mother and the count weren’t on board yet, he knew that, or he’d have heard about it. The Count of Monte Cristo didn’t go anywhere without an entourage, or without announcing his pedigree to everyone in the vicinity. Or was it lineage?
Lance swiped a washcloth across his damp brow, then at the back of his neck, his dark hair curling from the humidity, then retrieved the brochure from Murry’s hands. “They’re not boarding until Jamaica—Montego Bay.” Lance forced a smile. “The count’s arranged for all of us to visit Errol Flynn’s island for the ceremony, then we’ll board the ship.”
“Spending our final day at sea with the two of them as newlyweds?” Murry got up and paced. “I don’t think so.”
Lance cocked his head. “You can’t ditch mother’s wedding. She’ll never forgive you. Well, maybe she would, but you’d never forgive yourself.”
“I’ll survive the guilt.”
Lance shook his head, his blue eyes disagreeing with Murry’s words.
Murry couldn’t stop his mind from skipping to thoughts of Éclair. He’d been on the verge of asking her to marry him—then she’d been attacked. From the hospital she’d gone to her place, had a panic attack and moved in with him. Unable to use her hands for several weeks, she’d needed his help with everything. It was natural for her to resent him. He’d told himself that over and over. Told himself it wouldn’t last forever. And now she was gone. A few weeks in Iowa had turned into months, with no sign of her return. Stilted conversations had left him feeling frustrated and angry. And underneath the anger lay the kind of fear that gnawed at his gut, no matter what he did.
“I need a drink.” Murry headed for the door.
“Dinner’s in three hours, Art. Why don’t we go gamble first?”
Lance trailed him out into the hall. “Club Manaco’s on the Promenade deck, one floor above the Lobby where we eat. We can play poker until five.” He glanced at Murry’s face and added reluctantly, “They comp drinks there.”
“In that case, just stop me before I lose my shirt,” Murry grumbled.
Lance rapped on the opposite door and it swung open, Billy’s gaze skidding from Lance to Murry, assessing whether it was safe to come out after having let the wedding cat out of the bag.
Murry humphed once, daring Billy to say a single word.
Billy shoved a stick of gum in his mouth.
Good boy, Murry thought. He caught his reflection in the mirror by the elevator and almost didn’t recognize himself. Under the shock of his short black hair, his face looked pasty white, circles darkened the skin under his eyes, and a five o’clock shadow gave him the look of an escaped con. At least he’d showered and his clothes were pressed.
“It’s Lance Murry!” A female voice shrieked with excitement.
Murry inwardly groaned, wishing that for once his brother could remain anonymous.
Lance muttered “Sorry,” beneath his breath, then grew a smile and turned toward the attractive thirty-ish woman and a woman who might’ve been her mother. Opera groupies evidently spanned the generations.
The elevator doors slid open and Murry stepped in quickly. “See you and Billy in the casino,” he said as the doors closed, providing his escape. He got off a floor too early, ended up at the bar by the card room, and figured he’d have a few rounds before heading upstairs to Club Monaco.
Thomas Quaco Samson was on his way to the top deck when he saw the slim forty-ish man with dark hair seated at the bar, a bottle of scotch and a glass in front of him. He looked sad or depressed, not the usual cruise ship tourist, unless he planned on jumping. The man was also unusual in that he had a touch of second sight—and that worried Thomas because Sylvanya was coming aboard.
Aware it was best not to keep her waiting, Thomas shook off his worry about the passenger and headed for the nearest stairs. He saw himself as the embodiment of his Maroon ancestry, something Sylvanya didn’t appreciate, which made his love for her worse. The word Maroon came from the Spanish cimarron meaning wild or savage. But Sylvanya took such meaning to new levels. Sooner or later, she was going to get them killed.
The stairs trembled from his weight as he climbed and tried to calm himself. His ancestors were the first group of African slaves to flee to the Jamaican hills and settle there for centuries, developing their own culture and living off the land and plunder from plantation raids. They developed intricate systems of guerrilla warfare, striking at night and devising an early-warning system, utilizing the abeng horn to warn their villages of impending attacks. Of the different ethnic groups of Maroons, his father’s blood went back to the Ashanti group from Africa’s Gold Coast.
Sylvanya had used his fierce pride in his roots and in his athletic physique to trick him into revealing much more than he’d ever intended. He knew it and yet, when he was with her, he didn’t care.
His birthmark burned, as though her lips were already pressed against it. The small sickle-shaped scar on his shoulder, his grandfather told him, was a sign of the wolf and the shape-shifting clan who had roved the island for hundreds of years, avoiding slave owners and anyone who would try to ensnare them. To him, it looked like the mark of an ancient plantation owner who had branded his slaves. That a brand could be passed down as a birthmark only seemed fitting, given the strife and hunger of growing up poor in Jamaica. It also seemed fitting that the art of shape-shifting could be handed down as well, from father to son, in a ceremony where each generation swore secrecy forever on pain of death, or one walked away forever from the legacy and all its promises.
That he had taught the art to someone outside the clan—and a woman—made him sweat at night when he was alone in his bunk. And it would be worse when he returned home, for he feared his clan could smell what he’d done when they sat and shifted together under the moon. Though he longed to run wild and free knowing the joy and power of the wolf, if anyone learned the truth …
Normally, the clan did not kill humans. But corner an animal and it would turn savage. They would kill an outsider—if they were found out. And if they discovered Thomas had betrayed their trust, they would tear him limb from limb.
He climbed the last few steps to the top deck and scanned for Sylvanya. She wasn’t there. She’d promised she’d be aboard by now and her absence—what she might be doing—worried him.
He could still recall her scoff when he’d spoken of his first ceremony where he’d watched wide-eyed as the elders, including his father and grandfather, had sat around a fire and chanted. The chanting had resonated inside his heart, calling to something that had been waiting to be awakened. Whether the transformation was all in the mind or physically manifested didn’t matter—it was the experience: feeling the rapid heartbeat, the balance and speed of running on four legs, the sweep of wind and rain on skin covered by thick fur, the primal instinct for survival and seeing through the wolf’s eyes the beauty. . . and the prey. Some of his people saw physical manifestations in others, an aura they wore during transformation that gave the appearance of a wolf, worn like an overcoat. Others saw only the human form, but sensed the energy shift, their awareness of the group taking them within the pack, like a strong river current.
Hoping to impress Sylvanya, and having drunk too much rum, he’d said much more than intended. And more still after she’d taken him inside her delectable body and driven him mad with desire. Such desire made him ache when they were apart and quicken his breath when she was near—always he couldn’t wait to taste her again. To make her his. He longed for the day Sylvanya would say “yes” and marry him.
He’d thought that day had come two years ago, when he’d helped her shift for the first time. At first one needed the help of others, the group force or energy of Jah. But she’d grown past that need now—and he was afraid. Fearful of her power and afraid of who she’d kill next.
Finally, he understood why this gift was so carefully guarded, now that it was too late.