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Falcon's Bend Series, Book 1: Degrees of Separation
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Falcon's Bend Series, Book 1: Degrees of Separation


Score: 4.83 (votes: 6)
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Falcon's Bend is a small, sleepy town in Wisconsin that owns more taverns than churches, but fills both on the appropriate days. Teenagers talk of escape from the one-horse town because nothing ever seems to happen. But, even here in the Heartland, police investigators Pete Shasta, Danny Vincent and Amber Carfi fight a never-ending battle to keep their beloved families and hometown safe and sound.


Who is killing the midnight ladies? 

Falcon's Bend is a small, sleepy town in Wisconsin that owns more taverns than churches, but fills both on the appropriate days. Teenagers talk of escape from a one-horse town like Falcon's Bend because nothing ever seems to happen...until one fateful night when a dancer from the town's scandalous strip joint is found strangled. 

It soon becomes clear to Investigators Pete Shasta and Danny Vincent that the close-knit "family" at the nightclub is a bizarre breeding-ground for unbalanced feelings and obsessions. Pete and Danny race to peel away layers of bitterness before another girl falls victim to the dance of death. 

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  • Karen Wiesner
    Jan 11, 2018, 21:06
    4 ½ star review and Top Pick from RT Book Reviews
    5 star review from Huntress Reviews
    5 star review from The Romance Studio
    The Romance Studio Sweetheart Award Nominee
    5 star review from Lighthouse Reviews
    5 star review and Top Pick from Night Owl Reviews
    5 star review from Molly Martin Reviews

    5 Stars and Reviewer Top Pick! “Degrees of Separation is the first book in the Falcon's Bend Series and it was a page turner with twists and turns to boot. If you like a book with a lot of twists and turns this is definitely the book for you. I loved how the story kept me guessing and it will keep you guessing all the way through to the end. You won't believe who did it. Sit back and kick off your shoes and welcome to Falcon's Bend.” ~Night Owl Reviews
    "[In DEGREES OF SEPARATION, Book 1 of the Falcon's Bend Series] bit by bit, we come to know and appreciate both Pete Shasta and Danny Vincent for the excellent detectives and also the fine men that they are. Their stories are as much of interest as the mystery itself. The book would be seriously lacking without Shasta and Vincent’s strong presence. In a finely crafted mystery, we are jettisoned against the docks along with the tide of the story. Character development is very well done, but never gives away too much information about the actors too soon. Wiesner and Spindler are able to work together to create a tight, seamless plot that leaves us guessing until the very end. DEGREES OF SEPARATION merits [our highest rating, with] a bottle of Champagne plus a flute as a standing ovation to the authors. This reviewer waits impatiently to read the second in the Falcon’s Bend Series." ~Cocktail Reviews
    5 beacons! "DEGREES OF SEPARATION is a masterpiece with twists and turns and a suspenseful touch of erotic pleasure, and romance with just the right blending of intriguing characters to make this story excellent beyond words. It is so compelling that it sticks with you like glue even days later. Pete and Vincent dive into a whodunit with a good solid plot and so much fascination that not only will the story have the detectives guessing this incredible mystery; the readers will be equally amazed and surprised! A great colorful cast of characters that interweave to create a well-crafted brilliant story. Woohoo to Pete and Danny, a handsome duo that I hope have many more crime-solving capers under their belt. I loved the way the authors gave them a life as Pete had thoughts of what his wife would think with his long hours of duty. The two authors have thought of everything to keep the reader hypnotized. I absolutely love their style of writing. You could almost visualize Danny and Vincent as they asked questions and jotted down notes. Authors Karen and Chris have devised an exciting story that has a consistent smooth flow with the dialogue and scenes. They have penned a book that keeps you glued to your seat. It is sensual and full of great creativity and that is why I give this book a 5 rating. Their writing is impeccable and extraordinary and this book truly delivers and excels!! Keep writing because you both are truly talented beyond words." ~Lighthouse Reviews
    5 hearts! "Karen Wiesner and Chris Spindler weave a tale of suspense that will keep the reader spellbound. Ms. Wiesner thrilled me with her Incognito Series but this one written with Ms. Spindler seems like it will be even better. The detectives, Pete Shasta and Danny Vincent, may live in a small town but their lives and attention to detail would make them great cops anywhere. Each of the women who seems to be under the control of Trelawney is built as an individual we come to know well as the tale unfolds. Characterizations of Melody, Cherry, Sugar, Deidre, Lacy, and Vanessa are well done. We can't help but hope that the murderer isn't within the household. Each girl becomes both a suspect and a person the reader hopes won't be guilty or fall victim to the killer! The authors keep the suspense building throughout the book. This is a great tale that's hard to put down. The Falcon's Bend Series just earned a place on my list of must read books." ~The Romance Studio
    4 out of 4 elephants! “Yes! A new series for my collection. Ms. Wiesner describes her and Ms. Spindler’s new series the following way: “None of the Falcon’s Bend Series books are cozies. They’re all mystery/police procedurals. All are whodunnits except….” I’ll keep you in suspense as to the “except.” I agree completely. There is something gritty and basic about Falcon’s Bend. While set in Wisconsin, Falcon’s Bend, isn’t some cliché filled “one-horse town.” Lieutenant Pete Shasta and his partner Danny Vincent are not bumbling, overly polite, happy go lucky, perfect officers. They’re cops. They have a murder (or two) that needs solving and like dogs with old bones they’re not letting go. They are flawed; they are human. Pete and Danny have a presence here, but it's subtle and knowing there's four other books my gut tells me the complexity of the characters will show more as the series moves along. DEGREES OF SEPARATION surrounds the murder of a stripper. Something strange is going on at the Danse de Minuit. One character’s abuse history did get to me, pushed my comfort levels, but not enough to turn me against story. Sadly, it was needed for this character’s realistic development. Behind every face there’s a story and reason why they are who they are and how the monsters find them. Did I solve the murder mystery? Sorta. Given the quality of writing, I knew Ms. Wiesner and Ms. Spindler wouldn’t throw their readers an out-of-the-blue-unwarranted solution. However, they offered enough evidence that I could have been wrong. The ending left me well satisfied. As the title might suggest to you, “Degrees of Separation,” we’re all linked and our lives change by degrees. Take a left here; make choice A over B; one misunderstanding and our lives change. Each solution fit the individual with only the minimum fairy tale ending. Hey, even a realistic police mystery deserves at least one happy ending. A potentially strong series that I suspect will have a few surprises. I’m visiting Falcon’s Bend again and again, but you’ll have to come back for those.” ~Christine Steeves Speakman
    "DEGREES OF SEPARATION is an excellent title for this psychological thriller. What causes people to react the way they do? Delve into the twisted minds of the characters in DEGREES OF SEPARATION with Danny and Pete while they go about solving the newest murders in Falcon’s Bend. The main characters of Danny and Pete, which are introduced in [FALCON'S BEND CASE FILES, Volume I], are likeable and the reader can’t help but get caught up in their personal lives. All who enjoy a good thriller do not want to miss a novel penned by these two wonderful authors. Karen Wiesner and Chris Spindler are experts at weaving an exciting thriller." ~Writers Unlimited
    4 1/2 stars! "Karen Wiesner and Chris Spindler bring the reader a haunting story of murder, love, and dark secrets. It is hard to put this book down. The plot’s twists and turns will keep the reader breathless. This is the first book of the Falcon’s Bend Series. I cannot wait to read the next one." ~eCataromance.com
    4 1/2 stars and March Top Pick! "This initial series offering, set in fictional Falcon's Bend, Wisconsin, gets off to a great start in its exploration of obsession and manipulation. A newly opened "gentleman's club," populated by a dynamic group of young strippers and their charismatic protector, is rocked by the murder of one of the women. Local detectives and childhood friends Pete Shasta and Danny Vincent must tread carefully to find her killer. The authors carefully weave together a tricky plot spiced with well-drawn characters and motives aplenty, as Pete and Danny creep through the seamy underbelly of the club and the girls' mysterious pasts. Although the solution centers around an often-used plot device, there's enough of a twist to make it fresh and to keep the reader guessing. Pete is a particularly likeable hero, just flawed enough to seem human. The authors are deft with dialogue and good at drawing small-town dynamics, and the psychological suspense is well played. Though occasionally graphic, this looks like a series worth following." ~Romantic Times BOOKclub
    4 cups! “From the ominous beginning to the surprising climax, this is one story that had me hooked and unable to stop reading. The characters are vividly drawn and the plot is a suspenseful page turner. I loved the FBPD’s intense investigation which is very well done. The authors do a wonderful job of describing the hold Andre has over his little harem and why they stay despite it all. The budding romance between Melody and Danny is intense and fraught with conflict due to Melody’s fears and lack of trust with Pete’s stable relationship with the very patient Lisa as a counterpoint.” ~Coffee Time Romance & More
    "With extremely detailed characters, Ms. Wiesner and Ms. Spindler create a graphic, complicated plot of depravity and decadence that will have readers on the edge of their seats wondering who done it. Pete is a complicated individual who has serious abandonment issues with women. His mother left him and his father at an early age, and his first wife couldn’t handle the pressure of being a cop’s wife and also left him. His only saving grace is his second wife Lisa, who keeps him focused and reassures him by being there to listen and to love him. Danny is somewhat more of an enigmatic character. He is a playboy with a quick mind and sharp wit. He also has a soft spot in his heart for the underdog and an extreme hatred for those who prey upon the young and innocent. Together they are a formidable force, and with a little smooth detective work, they discover the truth behind the murder. This novel has all of the elements needed to make it a great mystery. With extremely detailed research, main characters with depth and personality, as well as diabolical bad guys, this story is sure to please any reader. The secondary characters are given the same attention to personality and detail as the main characters, rounding out this story quite nicely. If you are seeking a rollercoaster ride that will leave you captivated until the final chapter, be sure not to miss DEGREES OF SEPARATION." ~Romance Reviews Today
    "I enjoyed reading DEGREES OF SEPARATION. The storyline is provocative and masterfully exploited." ~Walker Jackson, author of the PI Walker series
    5 stars! "Writers Wiesner and Spindler have done an commendable job in this their first of the Falcon's Bend Series. Fixation, machination, intrigue and artifice abound in this provocative, skillfully wrought tale filled with resentfulness, malice, passion and envy. DEGREES OF SEPARATION is a fast paced page turner peopled with enigmatic characters, obsession and a pleasantly puzzling story line that holds the reader mesmerized from the opening lines of the epilogue right down to the last paragraphs. A picturesque mélange of striking, engaging characters filled with a veritable flood of impetus, quick moving plot, apprehension, taut and at times gritty dialogue, ruthless passion, obsession, a peek into the dark depths of the human psyche, DEGREES OF SEPARATION has it all. Capturing the helplessness felt by those least able to defend themselves against the machination welded by a tyrant, the writers carry the reader along to a satisfying conclusion in this powerful read. DEGREES OF SEPARATION is...not for the faint of heart. A good book for those who take pleasure from a long lazy afternoon set aside for enjoying a compelling account." ~author Molly Martin
    "There was a lot of suspense and, in spite of the many characters, the authors kept all those balls in the air. At the end I was rooting for the main characters to come through and also for them to find some happiness.... The authors are a good team, the book flowed well and the dialogue...was well written." ~Reviewingtheevidence.com
    "Karen Wiesner and Chris Spindler are two ladies who know how to write a spellbinding whodunnit that will have you hanging on their every word. I found myself totally absorbed with the characters and the plot in this tale of murder and mayhem. If this story were set to film, it would make a great series and would definitely give shows like NYPD Blue and Law & Order a run for their ratings. Karen and Chris have created a story that will have you coming back for more. I look forward to reading the second installment in the series called TEARS ON STONE coming in 2005." ~Fallen Angels Reviews
    "I'm dead tired this morning. My own fault. I had to finish the last hundred pages of DEGREES OF SEPARATION last night. It was only 1:30 when I finished, but my mind wouldn't quit analyzing all the intricacies of the plot. [Karen and Chris have written] a great book. I loved it and can't wait for the next in the series." ~Liz Hunter, author of BEYOND THE SHADOW
    "[T]he reader gets sucked into this mystery as surely and quickly as Dan and Pete do. This first book delivers a fast paced, riveting storyline wrapped in a well-crafted mystery that's sure to please fans of the genre. It also sets the stage nicely by introducing Shasta and Vincent. Though very different characters, they play well off each other and are both well realized within this engaging plot. This is an extremely promising first book, and if the series can retain this level of quality, it will surely pick up a nice, devoted fan base." ~Blue Iris Journal
    "DEGREES OF SEPARATION is the first book in the Falcon's Bend Series. It is the result of the combined efforts of two established and award-winning authors. The book is well written and the characters are all too real. An unexpected treat was the insight into different life philosophies of the two investigators. One believes environment and situation could change a good person into a monster, just as they could change a monster in a saint. The other believes that people decide their own destinies. He thinks that using circumstances, as an excuse for bad behavior is a cop-out, that people should have the willpower and strength to rise above their circumstances. Quite an interesting question! The follow [up] books to this series are TEARS ON STONE (March 2005) and THE FIFTEENTH LETTER (March 2006). I recommend you get in on this series now and enjoy the thriller/mystery of it while at the same time contemplating the philosophical questions it presents." ~Murder and Mayhem Bookclub
    5 Stars! "DEGREES OF SEPARATION is a terrific police procedural with detectives struggling to uncover who and why. Pete is a fabulous focus to the fine plot as he worries that his second wife will dump him like his first spouse did because he works long, diligent hours on the case instead of on her. His partner adds depth with his big city cynical outlook, though under thirty (five years in the Big Apple will do that). The dancers have unique personalities, and Andre is a way out antagonist who has no apparent reason to kill the victim. ...sub-genre fans will appreciate this tense, one-sitting Falcon's Bend offering." ~Harriet Klausner
    5 stars! "Here is a "whodunnit" that will intrigue all mystery fans! It is loaded with twists and turns to keep you guessing until close to the end. Every time I thought that I had figured it out another juicy surprise would pop up. The novel focuses mainly on the case. The subplot, involving Danny, is pretty subtle but seems to round out the novel wonderfully. I can only hope that the authors allow me to visit the town of Falcon's Bend again in the near future." ~HUNTRESS REVIEWS
    4 Stars! “Falcon's Bend, a small sleepy town in Wisconsin, is just that, and doesn't see an overabundance of violent crime. That is until one fateful night… I found DEGREES OF SEPARATION to be a very good read. The characters are well defined and the dialogue skillfully done. Moving between characters, the authors adeptly bring the reader on a wild ride to a satisfactory conclusion. The reader will find it to be a very good mystery story.” ~Readers Favorite
    4 stars! “DEGREES OF SEPARATION opens with the past and quickly moves to the murder of one of the dancers. It immediately snagged me and kept me reading. The story is tight and the pacing is perfectly cadenced. As usual, with these two authors, the characters and relationship dynamics are as interesting as the mystery. The whodunit was satisfyingly difficult. I enjoy a challenging mystery and changed my mind several times trying to figure this one out. I usually read a series in order but that wasn’t the case with this series. I read the third and fourth. The first two weren’t available at the time. Having enjoyed them so much I was of two minds about reading the first. There are series that start off slow and become better with time and some that do the opposite. Some are consistently good and that’s the category the Falcon’s Bend Series belongs in. I’ve enriched my enjoyment of the series by playing catch up with the first book and look forward to reading both the second and book of shorts with high hopes that they’ll stay true to the standard set. For anyone who enjoys excellent characterization, whodunits that make you think and exceptional writing I humbly recommend DEGREES OF SEPARATION.” ~Manic Readers
    "Fantastic, stays on shelf! I was instantly drawn into the story with the heartbreaking choice of separating the twin girls at birth. With home lives exact polar opposites of each other it was clear both girls would grow up very differently. Even through the nightmarish milieu of murder, strip clubs, and what I’ve dubbed as the harem house, the true killer isn’t revealed until the very end. Vivid engaging characters such as Pete and Danny, the detectives, make DEGREES OF SEPARATION a pleasure to read. I truly felt the emotion Pete felt for his wife, Lisa, and his regret at all the time he was forced to spend away from her. Danny’s fall for Melody, though expected, was a bright ray of sunshine in an otherwise sordid sort of tale. I enjoyed Degrees of Separation immensely." ~WRDF Review
    "In Falcon's Bend, nothing extraordinary normally happens. Certainly nothing that could be considered "severely criminal." That is until the day little Davy York finds a woman shoved under a bridge in the park. Upon closer inspection, Detectives Pete Shasta and Danny Vincent discover that this is not just any run-of-the-mill woman either, what with her coffee-colored skin and waist-length blonde hair. This girl was extraordinarily exotic...especially in the dancing department! Upon further inspection they discover that the dancer's name is Teresa and she was a stripper at the local men's club, Danse de Minuit, which is owned by one Andre Trelawney. Who killed Teresa? Was it one of her fellow dancers out of jealousy? Was it her boyfriend because he didn't want her to dance?--or was it Andre because he didn't want her to have a boyfriend? All of these questions and many more are answered in Karen Wiesner & Chris Spindler's nail-biting, dying-for-more "DEGREES OF SEPARATION." The team has woven an amazing story of suspense and "whodunit" that will take the reader through the smoky underbelly of the world of prostitution, strip clubs, and secret lives. This novel is rival to that of some of the queens of suspense, Iris Johansen and Patricia Cornwell, with the only difference being that in their novels 9 times out of 10 the main character is a heroine and they have opted to have two very handsome and very charming heroes instead. They have done a spectacular job of taking a hodgepodge assortment of colorful characters and making each of them mesh together as a family. These bright men and women are part of what makes this story so much an enjoyable read that a girl just couldn't hardly stand to put it down! In my opinion, DEGREES OF SEPARATION is just another notch in Karen Wiesner and Chris Spindler's belt of great books; and I for one look forward to reading more of Pete and Danny's crime-solving escapades!" ~Roundtable Reviews
    "Karen Wiesner's and Chris Spindler's DEGREES OF SEPARATION opens with the chilling premonition of a young life destroyed. Wiesner's and Spindler's first book in the Falcon's Bend series introduces the reader to the small town of Falcon's Bend, Wisconsin via its inhabitants: police investigators Danny Vincent, Pete Shasta, their families, and, the newest and oddest family in town, the ladies of the "gentleman's club," their bodyguard, and the head of their household and boss. Through strong characterization, the reader learns of the strain police work puts on a relationship, the motives of the suspects for the lives they are living as well as murder, and the resiliency of the human spirit to survive if given a chance. A fast read that will keep you guessing right up to the end and characters you will want to visit again, I highly recommend DEGREES OF SEPARATION." ~Barbara Raffin, award-winning author
    "DEGREES OF SEPARATION is a teaser-a fast-paced whodunnit with complex characters and an intriguing plot that keep the reader mesmerized and coming back for more until each fascinating clue is stripped down to the naked truth." ~Barbara Colley, author of the MAID FOR MURDER
    "DEGREES OF SEPARATION is a compelling, skillfully crafted tale that explores the dark depths of the human psyche. Not for the faint of heart, it sticks in your mind like a burr and may follow you into your nightmares." ~Pauline B. Jones, award-winning author of DO WAH DIDDY DIE
    "DEGREES OF SEPARATION is a page-turner that combines the twists and turns of tightening suspense with eroticism, social commentary, romance and an assortment of intriguing characters." ~Louise Titchener, bestselling author of BURIED IN BALTIMORE
    "Karen and Christine have written a fast-paced, exciting book, the subject matter of which could be crass in less competent hands. Not so with these ladies. Obviously no strangers to erotica, they sail through their explicit scenes and dialogue like pros. DEGREES OF SEPARATION is a sensual book that will keep you glued from the first page to the last." ~Celia Ann Leaman, author of MARY'S CHILD
    "I've just finished reading DEGREES OF SEPARATION by Karen Wiesner and Chris Spindler and, for those of you who like suspense, I recommend reading this debut book. Ms. Wiesner and Ms. Spindler take you into the fictional town of Falcon's Bend, Wisconsin where Detectives Pete Shasta and Danny Vincent try to unravel the murder of a stripper in this otherwise peaceful town. Go to Falcon’s Bend to find out more about the community and what's up next for Pete and Danny when they return to solve another trial of death in TEARS ON STONE." ~Debbie Fritter, author of THE PERFECT MATCH

  • Angie Fletcher (Amazon)
    Aug 27, 2017, 05:02
    Degrees of Separation is the first book in the Falcon's Bend Series and it was a page turner with twists and turns to boot. If you like a book with a lot of twists and turns this is definitely the book for you. I loved how the story kept me guessing and it will keep you guessing all the way through to the end. You won't believe who did it. Sit back and kick off your shoes and welcome to Falcon's Bend.
  • Detra Fitch of Huntress Reviews
    Aug 27, 2017, 05:00
    Twin girls are separated at birth and adopted by different couples. The frail twin went to a rich couple, so she could receive any medical treatments she may need. The strong twin went to a poor couple on the wrong side of tracks. Twenty-one years pass...

    In Falcon's Bend, Wisconsin, Lieutenant Pete Shasta is thinking only about seducing his wife when his partner, Danny Vincent, shows up at the door about a murder. The body of a stripper from "Danse de Minuit", a gentleman's club, has been found in the park. Pete and Danny soon realize that the investigation will not be a quick. The club has only about a half dozen "dancers". Oddly, they all live in the same house as the club's owner, Andre Trelawney, and his timid wife, Melody. None of the dancers will talk without Andre's permission. They all seem to be either in love with Andre or to loathe him. Andre has the birth certificate of each dancer, showing all to be of legal age. Yet they physically look like minors. Stranger still, the wife is an identical twin of one of the dancers and acts as though she fears her husband. Of course Pete and Danny cannot prove that any prostitution is going on. Nor can they prove the ladies are younger than their birth certificates claim. However, none of the ladies have any solid history before two years ago. None of them has a checking account either. They DO have savings accounts, but all deposits have been made by Andre and there has never been a single withdrawal.

    Everyone seems to have a motive for killing the victim. The case is going to be difficult to solve. The worst things are that Andre seems to be extremely possessive of ALL his dancers and Danny is falling in love with Melody. The atmosphere is pregnant with danger and the possibility of another murder is high.

    ***** Here is a "who dunnit" that will intrigue all mystery fans! It is loaded with twists and turns to keep you guessing until close to the end. Every time I thought that I had figured it out another juicy surprise would pop up. The novel focuses mainly on the case. The subplot, involving Danny, is pretty subtle but seems to round out the novel wonderfully. I can only hope that the authors allow me to visit the town of Falcon's Bend again in the near future. *****
  • Diane T. for Fallen Angels Reviews
    Aug 27, 2017, 04:59
    it would make a great series and would definitely give shows like NYPD Blue ...

    5 Angels! "Karen Wiesner and Chris Spindler are two ladies who know how to write a spellbinding whodunnit that will have you hanging on their every word. I found myself totally absorbed with the characters and the plot in this tale of murder and mayhem. If this story were set to film, it would make a great series and would definitely give shows like NYPD Blue and Law & Order a run for their ratings. Karen and Chris have created a story that will have you coming back for more. I look forward to reading the second installment in the series called TEARS ON STONE coming in 2005."
  • Maura for Coffee Time Romance & More http://www.coffeetimeromance.com/BookReviews/Degreesofseparation.html
    Aug 27, 2017, 04:51
    DEGREES OF SEPARATION

    From the ominous beginning to the surprising climax, this is one story that had me hooked and unable to stop reading. The characters are vividly drawn and the plot is a suspenseful page turner. I loved the FBPD’s intense investigation which is very well done. The authors do a wonderful job of describing the hold Andre has over his little harem and why they stay despite it all. The budding romance between Melody and Danny is intense and fraught with conflict due to Melody’s fears and lack of trust with Pete’s stable relationship with the very patient Lisa as a counterpoint.

"A certain period elapses, and some unseen mysterious principle again sets in motion the magic pinions and the wizard wheels. The silver cord was not for ever loosed, nor the golden bowl irreparably broken. But where, meantime, was the soul?"

~from "The Premature Burial" by Edgar Allan Poe


Prologue


I've done the right thing, Stephan Kelley told himself.

Just yesterday, seventeen-year-old Tyaa Savic had given birth to twin daughters. Considering the young girl's many dangerous addictions, it had been a miracle in itself that Tyaa managed to carry them for seven months.

"The first little girl that came out was kicking and screaming," the nurse had told Stephan--the adoption case representative--outside Tyaa's room. "Healthy as a horse with good lung development. All that blond hair! The second is smaller. Frail. She'll need to be taken care of 'round the clock for a good long while. I hope she makes it, poor little thing."

Throughout a sleepless night, Stephan had wrestled with the knowledge that finding parents who would take two newborns at once was difficult at any time. This time it had been impossible. Only weeks ago he'd located two couples, each of whom wanted a single child, and the paperwork and interviews had been completed in record time.

How do I choose? Stephan had agonized in the darkness of his living room, his hands clenched into tight fists. How do I decide which girl goes where? How can I make a decision like that when the worlds are so severely different? If both couples had been middle class...it would be easier. So much easier.

Stephan had finally taken a deep breath and told himself to be logical, the way his boss was. "Face facts instead of emotions," Mr. Corley was always saying. Never mind that the differences in the couples had been antipodal to the extreme.

The fact was, the DeMazzinos owned a chain of posh restaurants around the United States and were in the process of expanding overseas. They literally had servants on every doorstep. They were the type of ideal couple the Second Chance Adoption Agency loved to provide children for.

The fact was, one of the twins was weak and would need medical care for the first few weeks or months of her life to survive. Logic dictated that her parents would need money to afford the expenses. The DeMazzinos had the finances and the love to give this weaker twin everything she needed to thrive.

As soon as Stephan called them with the good news that morning, they rushed to the hospital to meet their new daughter. They insisted that money was no object. She would have the best doctors in the world to nurse her to complete health. While they hugged each other and smiled with tears in their eyes as they viewed their beautiful new child, Stephan reluctantly forced himself to depart.

The fact was, the strong twin would survive. She would have to spend her life fighting for everything she got, but she would survive better anywhere than with a mother who cared nothing for her.

Now, with the strong newborn behind him in the backseat of his car, Stephan drove through the precarious streets in one of the worst sections of the city. The Bronstons owned a run-down hotel in this area. Regardless, they'd passed the usual battery of tests required and had three foster children already--all girls under the age of ten.

As he approached the building, a shudder ran through him. He had to ignore the dread that had multiplied with each visit to the Bronstons' home. They'd passed the tests more than once. The cold feeling in Stephan's middle had to be nothing serious--a mere reaction to the poverty the family lived in, especially compared to what the DeMazzinos could offer any child.

Jane and Elmo Bronston were waiting for him, looking anxious as he presented the child to them. The little girl was crying with all the gusto of a tidal wave, and Stephan's own instincts were to comfort her. Smiling slightly as he took the tiny child from the car seat and snuggled her in his arms, he watched her become calm against him.

"She's ours?" Jane asked, a woman who'd never been able to have children of her own. She'd explained that numerous times during the interviews. She'd said there was nothing more she wanted in this world than a child of her own.

Swallowing with difficulty, Stephan handed the cherub over to her new mother. Why don't I believe her? he wondered. Why don't I feel her and her husband's desire to love and care for this child is genuine? I'm being foolish.

"Go back in your room!" Elmo shouted suddenly, forcing Stephan's attention to snap to the doorway behind them. One of the foster girls ducked back into the darkness beyond so quickly, Stephan was certain he must have imagined what he saw. She was probably outside, playing in the dirt. That was dirt all over her face.

Mrs. Bronston handed the baby to her husband, hurrying through the doorway the girl had disappeared back into.

"Is everything all right?" Stephan asked when the newborn wailed alarmingly.

"Not easy with so many kids. They're into everything," Elmo said in a you-know-how-it-is tone. "But we love 'em."

Stephan nodded, feeling that chill again in his middle when he looked into Mr. Bronston's eyes. Cold eyes. Heartless eyes. The eyes of a predator.

"It's been hectic this morning. If you wouldn't mind, Mr. Kelley--" he started pointedly, and Stephan nodded. 

When he got outside the house, he stood on the doorstep for a minute, wondering if he could get himself to leave here without looking back. At once, he knew he shouldn't but couldn't stop himself from shifting over to the dirty panels of windows next to the door and peering inside.

What he saw there took the air from his lungs. Mr. Bronston had laid the baby on the floor and kneeled on hands and knees over it. Though Stephan had told them as soon as he arrived with the child that she'd just been fed and her diaper had been changed at the hospital, the baby now lay naked beneath Mr. Bronston. His lips were curled back like that of a hungry wolf.

Jane Bronston came into the room, barely noticing her husband as she instead hurried toward the window. Stephan ducked his head back quickly to avoid notice and rushed to his car.

He'd imagined it. The man was just checking the baby's diaper. Surely if the wife hadn't noticed anything amiss... The couple had passed the tests. Their other foster children had all looked healthy and claimed to be happy, though their extreme shyness and empty eyes had bothered Stephan on more than one occasion.

I had no choice, he told himself over and over until he convinced himself.

And Stephan Kelley washed his hands of it, never once believing it was a decision that would haunt him for the rest of his life.



Chapter One


Twenty-one years later...


If this day sucked any worse, it'd have a straw, Teresa thought, heaving in the fresh air as she stumbled out of Danse de Minuit into the darkness. She felt better than she had a little while ago when she'd puked up just about everything that wasn't permanently fixed in place. Sure ain't gonna tell Andre I feel a world better though!

If she did that, she'd be back on stage faster than she could wink. Andre never allowed any of them to "shirk" their duties to him.

Tottering slightly on her stiletto heels, she turned toward the front of the building and headed out onto Third Avenue. Her throat felt raw, and she wished she'd had time for a drink of water before Andre appeared demanding to know why she wasn't out on stage dancing. She'd run the risk of having to do what her boss expected of her or the even more dangerous task of lying to him. She'd gone against her every instinct and lied, saying she'd thrown up and felt feverish now. The first part was true. Looking peeved, Andre had told Lacey to go get Roy to drive her home.

According to Lacey, Roy had been "throwing some punk out." Teresa had assured everyone she could walk home; she'd make it somehow. Silently she'd wondered if the truth of the matter was that Roy didn't want to be in that close of contact with her. After all, less than six hours ago she'd told him it was over between them. I chose Andre over him; Roy's got a right to be royally pissed at me. Can't blame him...but Lord, I miss him.

She'd never forget the look on his face when she blurted out that she couldn't run away with him. Lordy, but he'd been infuriated after that, convinced Andre had brainwashed her, threatened her. Worse, Roy believed she'd used him the whole time.

Teresa pressed a hand gently to her stomach. Roy was no good for her. He was no better than a sugar pimp, using his charm instead of violence to control her--she knew he wouldn't have changed even if they got away. But...she loved him, loved his gentleness, his sweetness. He was a teddy bear encased in armor and she'd found her way straight to his heart. They shared something so vital. How could she have let Andre talk her out of their plans?

No sense crying over spilt milk, hey. It's all over now anyway. Andre blackmails me with my own emotions, just like forever, no shame for him. He always gets what he wants, one way or another, and you know it, girl.

A chill went up her spine when she remembered how he'd grabbed her by her arm so hard and yanked her toward him. She'd never forget the look in his eyes as he'd said coldly, "You'll never leave me. I'll never let you get away, baby. Never. If you try--if you even try--I'll kill you and anyone foolish enough to go with you."

No, she'd never forget again. She belonged to Andre. 'Til death do us part.

But me and Roy, we were so close! Ah, damn it, so close. Roy loved me. Somehow I don't believe Andre even cares unless it benefits him somehow. Roy'll never forgive me now. No way. He told me I was one of Andre's stupid b@#s, tied tight to the post with a leash. He'll never forgive me--never, never, never.

Unless...unless I tell him...

As she neared the park, Teresa decided to cross the parking lot and sit on a bench awhile, give herself time to think. Maybe she ought to go to Roy's instead of home. Tell him when he got back later that she was stupid--that she'd changed her mind, if he'd still have her. Somehow they'd get away from Andre.

Yeah.

She'd made the detour through the entrance of the park and toward the nearest bench overlooking the pond when she felt something come down hard on her neck. For a moment she didn't have a clue what was happening to her. Then she realized she couldn't breathe. Something cold cinched around her throat. Before she could more than grapple for the constrictor, a knee slammed into her back and a weight came down on her. She was falling, clawing for air.

Ain't happening...ain't-- Not when...my dreams...finally...coming true. My Roy...baby...

The darkness swooped down from above and swallowed her whole.



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