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Moment of Truth
by Christiane Heggan
Mira, 2002

E X C E R P T

PROLOGUE

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The one-story roadside motel stood alone, stark white against the northern Virginia night sky. In the surrounding darkness, a red neon sign with the word Vacancy flashing on and off, provided the only light.

Silently, the dark Mercedes pulled into the motel parking lot and slid into an empty space. The man behind the wheel did not turn off the engine but let it idle as he surveyed the area. His gaze stopped on the window of Room 12 at the end of the building. Weariness mixed with excitement. He still wasn't sure this meeting was a good idea. There hadn't been enough time to investigate the girl, make sure she was what she claimed to be-a chat room enthusiast looking for a few hours of hot, mindless sex.

She had joined Spider's Web only two weeks before and from the moment she had logged on under the pseudonym of Guinevere, he had felt an irresistible attraction to her. Though admittedly new to sex chat rooms, she was no slouch in the erotic talk department. In fact, she was downright filthy at times-which thrilled him beyond description.

For some odd reason, she had singled him out, flirting openly and shamelessly with him, explaining that because of their respective pseudonyms- Guinevere and Black Knight, they shared a special karma. On her first night in the chat room, she had contacted him privately, through the instant message feature, and told him they should get together for a little fun and games. When he had brushed her off, she had asked again. And again.

That was the reason he had taken a short absence from Spider's Web last week. The woman was getting to him in ways no other ever had, and that worried him. From the moment he had discovered Spider's Web three years ago, he had made it a point to thoroughly investigate the backgrounds of the women he chose to meet in person. Guinevere, however, had refused to tell him anything about herself, claiming that the mystery surrounding their identities was part of the thrill, otherwise why bother? The only information she had provided was that she lived in Delaware and was willing to travel.

His indifference to her repeated requests had made her even more determined. Only yesterday, she had teased him mercilessly, calling him a bad boy and scolding him for playing hard to get. Much to the pleasure of the others in the chat room, she had told him, in scorching details, what she would do to him once they finally got together. She had talked as though she knew him intimately, knew what he wanted, what he craved.

Common sense had told him to ignore her and move on to another chat room. There were plenty of women out there willing to meet him on his terms. This girl was too wild, too much of a thrill-seeker. At the same time, the danger she presented had brought his arousal to new levels. Little by little, his resistance had begun to ebb as her messages got hotter and hotter, conjuring a series of images that made it impossible for him to focus on anything but those incendiary words.

He drew a deep breath. There was nothing to be concerned about, he reasoned. This place, which he had used before, was completely safe, catering mostly to long- distance truckers who were too damned tired to worry about what went on in the next room.

His gaze swept over the parking lot one more time as he tried to guess which of the three sedans belonged to her. None had Delaware license plates, which meant she had either rented a car to come here or borrowed one. He nodded approvingly. She was cautious, too, and that pleased him. Experience had taught him that the women who had the most to lose were the least likely to cause trouble.

With a shiver of anticipation, he turned off the engine, got out of the car and walked quickly across the parking lot.

The drapes of Room 12 were drawn except for a crack in the middle. It was enough to give him an ample view of the room and its occupant. What he saw caused him to take a sharp intake of breath. She was there, her back to him. Except for a black thong and black leather boots, she was naked, moving around the room with total abandon, her long platinum hair cascading over her shoulders, hiding half her face.

Rooted to his spot, he took in the sensuous hips, the round behind, the long, shapely legs. He waited for her to turn around so he could see the rest of her, but she didn't. Did she know he was there, watching her? He wondered. Had she left that opening in the drapes for that purpose?

He thought of waiting her out and showing her who was in charge, but as she bent to take a bottle of champagne from a cooler at the foot of the bed, he felt a strong, familiar jolt and knew he wasn't up to playing games.

At last, he walked over to the door and opened it. "Hello, Guinevere."

As she spun around, a look of utter shock on her face, his heart gave one powerful thump. He tried to speak but was unable to utter a single word.

Though she was just as stunned, she recovered quickly and reacted in typical fashion. She threw her head back and burst into laughter.

"Shut up." Having finally regained his voice, if not his composure, he closed the door and assumed a stern tone. "Do you want to wake up the entire building?"

She flipped her hair-a wig he now realized--behind her shoulders, clearly not intimidated. "You can't blame me for being amused, can you? This is truly priceless." She put her hands on her hips while she assessed him, slowly, from head to toe. "Not a half bad disguise." She waved a finger above her upper lip. "I particularly like the Errol Flynn mustache. It gives you a certain...je ne sais quoi. "

"Shut up and listen," he said sharply. "I'm going to walk out this door and you'll get dressed and do the same. As far as we're both concerned, this meeting never took place. Do you understand?"

"No way, Josť." She let out a bawdy laugh. "This is too good to pass up." She walked toward him in a slow, suggestive way which, under different circumstances, would have set him on fire. At the moment, all he experienced was cold, undiluted fear.

"Wait until the people at Spider's Web find out who Black Knight is," she scoffed. "You, my friend, will be the topic du jour for weeks to come."

"You will not mention one word of this to anyone!"

"And deprive myself of all this fun?" She shook her head. "Not a chance. I can't wait until all of Washington finds out exactly what kind of pervert you are."

She started to walk around him, chuckling. "Who would have thought," she said in a low, sexy voice. "That you had such a hot spark burning deep inside that puritanical soul of yours." Her hand trailed across his back. "I like it, you know." He felt her mouth brush against his ear. "It turns me on," she whispered.

He pushed her off. "Get dressed."

"Why? Don't you like this little number?" She pirouetted in front of him, batting her eyelashes. "I bought it just for you." Her tone was mocking now. "You're aroused, aren't you? Come on, admit it. You want me. I can read it in your eyes, feel it in the way you're holding your breath."

She inched closer, pressing her chest against his. Her mouth was only a breath away, red, ripe and lethal. To his disgust, he felt a stirring.

"I brought some of those toys I told you about." She ran the tip of her tongue along her upper lip. "Wanna play?"

He followed her gaze to a chair where several bondage items-ropes, handcuffs, blindfolds, had been laid out.

"What's the matter, lover? Lost your tongue?" Her smoldering eyes filled with lust. "We wouldn't want that now, would we?"

His mouth felt dry. The blood pounded so hard in his ears, he thought they would burst.

"Oh, come on," she teased. "Don't be such a spoiled sport. We came here to have fun, remember?" She gave him an exaggerated wink. "If you're as good as I think you are, I'll give you a great recommendation. Nothing beats good word of mouth. Maybe I'll even call the Post. They'd love a juicy story like this, don't you think?"

The thought of seeing his name plastered over the front page of The Washington Post made him sick. The bitch was going to destroy him. All those years of hard work would have been for nothing, the dream as unreachable as a distant planet.

Another woman might have listened to reason, accepted money. Not this one.

He knew as surely as the sun would rise tomorrow that the only way out of this mess was to silence her. Permanently.

Obviously unsuspecting of the direction his thoughts had taken, she continued to watch him, the tip of her index finger in her mouth. It would have been so easy to wrap his hands around that delicate white throat and squeeze until she had expired her last breath. Easy but risky. Her instincts would be to fight back, to pry his fingers loose, perhaps even scratch him, leaving blood and skin residue under her fingernails.

He would have to find another way. As his mind worked feverishly, his gaze stopped on the bottle of champagne on the bedside table.

She caught his look and smiled, clearly into the game now. "Why don't you go ahead and pop the cork, lover? I'll get the glasses."

As she turned away from him, his heart began to thunder. This was his chance. He couldn't screw it up. Without wasting another moment, he grabbed the bottle of champagne by the neck, brought his arm back as he would a baseball bat, and, with all the force he could muster, slammed it against the back of her head.

He heard the thunk as it connected with the woman's skull. Simultaneously, her legs folded under her, making her look like a disjointed puppet. She fell onto the bed, face down. In the sudden stillness of the room, the only sound was that of his ragged breathing as he stood looking at her. Blood had begun to trickle from her mouth, seeping onto the cheap yellow bedspread.

Was she dead? He kept staring at her, unsure. He could already feel the first signs of panic rising through him. What if she was only unconscious? What if he had to hit her again?

Moving was an effort, but he forced himself to put the bottle down and take a tentative step toward the bed, then another. He bent over her. "Molly?" When there was no response, he seized a handful of fake hair, turned her head and jumped back.

Lifeless blue eyes stared at him.

He wasn't sure how long he stood there, waiting for the shaking to stop and for his mind to start functioning again. When it finally did, his first thought was to get out of there. Quickly. But not yet. Not until he had taken care of a few details.

Calmer now, he pulled a handkerchief from his pants pocket and proceeded to wipe everything he had touched, or thought he had touched-the bedside table, the chair with the sex paraphernalia, and, of course, the champagne bottle.

When he was finished, he gave the room one last sweeping glance, trying to ignore the motionless figure on the bed. But even in death, she was like a magnet, pulling him in, forcing him to look. The sight made him shiver. At that angle and with her eyes wide open, she seemed to be staring right at him, mocking him.

After what felt like an eternity, he tore his gaze away and backed out of the room, pausing at the door long enough to wipe both knobs, inside and out. Then, after making sure no one was outside, he stepped out and hurried into the night.



Excerpted from Moment of Truth by Christiane Heggan. Copyright © 2001 by Christiane Heggan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.









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