Evil to the Max
Book 2 in the Max Starr Series
2005 Eppie Finalist
RTR Reviewers Choice Award February 2004
“Spine-tingling visions, pulse-pounding sexual tension and danger”
The Road to Romance
“Intricate plot, hot sex ... tons of suspense”
Sensual Romance Reviews
When Max Starr tells Detective Witt Long she’s had a second vision of murder, Witt knows he’s in for another crazy adventure. The police aren’t going to solve Tiffany Lloyd’s murder without Max divulging what she saw in the vision, but that will only move her straight to the top of the suspect list. For the second time in less than a month! So Max goes on the hunt for the murderer herself, dragging a reluctant Witt along with her. But the deeper she ventures into the dead woman’s life, the more she sees that nothing is as it seems and everyone has something to hide. As she stirs up a hornet’s nest, Max soon begins to fear she might be the next victim.
Even scarier, Witt makes it clear he wants her. Badly. Just how long can she resist him? When it comes to Witt and her very sexy visions about him, she suspects that resistance is futile.
Max Starr series in order
Dead to the Max
Evil to the Max
Desperate to the Max
Power to the Max
Vengeance to the Max
Warning, sexually explicit content
The music vibrated in her chest and puckered her nipples against the tight tank sweater she wore. She couldn’t hear herself think, didn’t want to. A gaggle of girls on the hairy edge of the legal drinking age passed in front of her. They pointed, giggled, and whispered. Like teenyboppers.
For a moment, she envied their innocence.
When she looked again, her quarry made his move. She turned, fingering the heart-shaped locket around her neck, and watched his approach in the mirror behind the bar.
His voice thrummed through her. Deep. Heavy with sexual innuendo. He smelled of soap, fresh laundry, and aroused male. Dark hair a month past the need for a cut, a week’s growth of beard covering his chin, and eyes the color of hot fudge. Mmmm. She licked her lips. She adored hot fudge sundaes.
Garth Brooks faded into a Brad Paisley ballad. Slow. Just what she’d been waiting for. She slid off the stool and held her hand out to him. Weaving through the tables with him close behind her, his touch seared her wrist. Promising.
The floor was packed with dancers doing the Drifter. They joined in, her back to his front, not a breath of space between their bodies. He was already hard. She was already wet. Looking over her shoulder, she slid her hips across his erection. His nostrils flared.
Undulating dancers brushed against her. Laughter, voices, and pounding music insulated them in the center of the dance floor. She followed his moves, let the rhythm of her breath match the pulse of the music. Fast. Hot. He caressed her without touching. They dipped, surged, and rolled with the beat. Then his hand wandered beneath her short black skirt, across her thigh, then slipped along her center.
She’d left her panties at home. “Do it now,” she whispered, and placed a hand on his zipper.
“Jesus,” he murmured on an exhale. “Christ. This isn’t such a good idea.”
“You have to.” She seduced with a flexing of her butt muscles.
His finger trailed moisture along her thigh as he withdrew. His arm tightened beneath her breasts. “Not here.”
He grabbed her hand and pulled her from the dance floor. Dragging her down a short hallway ripe with the scent of sweat, he pushed open a door. Men. Lots of them. Bright lights. Stained white urinals. Shocked stares.
He pulled her into the second stall, closed the door, and backed her up against the cool metal. So good against her hot flesh. He sat on the toilet, shoved his hands roughly beneath her skirt, then rubbed his thumb against her clitoris. Looking down at him, she bit her lip.
Outside the stall, speech returned. Murmurs. A quick burst of embarrassed laughter. She fed on every sound.
He raised her skirt and put his tongue to her. She hooked a leg over his shoulder to give him better access, braced herself against the locked door, then moaned out loud.
He went down on her in earnest.
She came in a blinding flash. Crying out, she shuddered against his mouth, locking him to her with her hands in his hair.
A chant rose outside the stall, “Fuck her, fuck her, fuck her.”
He stood, turned her against the door, spread her legs, and took her from behind. She came again on the second thrust and didn’t stop until he’d unloaded deep inside her.
The riot started when she opened the stall door.
Max Starr stopped in front of his desk and planted her hands on her hips. “I think I know where another dead body is.”
Detective DeWitt Quentin Long laid his head on his folded arms and cried like a baby.
The clatter of computer keys stopped abruptly. A phone no one bothered to answer rang shrilly. Four pairs of male eyes bored into her back. Noisy hall traffic faded out.
“If you have to do that, can we go somewhere private?” she whispered. Max started to sweat in her black slacks and blazer. The embarrassment almost made her forget the horror of her vision.
She’d never forget the image of the couple in that restroom stall, the sound of men ranting outside, and then ... the woman’s pain, so thick Max could feel it tighten across her own chest and crush the bones of her face. She took a shuddery breath.
Witt didn’t look up. His broad shoulders shook.
The stuffy detective pen smelled like dirty socks, and the overhead lighting turned Witt’s blond hair a ghastly shade of yellow. Three of the suits had risen from their chairs, moving closer to eavesdrop. So close, she smelled their coffee breath blowing down her neck.
“Hey, this is getting ridiculous,” Max hissed.
Witt was a big guy, no pushover despite the blue eyes and Dudley Do-Right dimple in his chin. She’d expected more of him. Hell, she could have told him she’d had another psychic vision and that her husband’s ghost had sent her running to him. She spared him, figuring Witt was still getting over the time Cameron had given him a little ghostly nudge.
“Hey, Long, this the pain-in-the-a ... neck you keep talking about?”
Max turned to glare at Coffee Breath. At five-foot-six and in three-inch spiked heels, she towered over the man by at least an inch. His glasses were smudged, his brown suit rumpled, and the sleeve of his sport coat spotty with ... something. She’d bet her next paycheck the eau-de-dirty-socks came from his shoes.
Witt raised his head. Finally.
The creep was laughing. So damn hard he cried. Tears streamed down his face.
She narrowed her eyes. “I’m serious.”
She hadn’t known he could laugh. But then she’d only known him a little over two weeks. Still, when a man practically saves your life, you figure you know him. Though not in the biblical sense.
He wiped his eyes, chuckled once more, then got himself under control. “Scranton, you got reports to type or something?” He awarded Coffee Breath a bored flick of his hand and pulled out the chair next to his desk for Max.
Max continued to stand. “We have to go, Witt.” She lowered her voice. “There really is a body.”
He raised a blond brow. “Guess you weren’t joking the other day when you said you felt a ... dream coming on?”
She noticed he couldn’t quite call it a vision. “I was, but ... maybe I was having a premonition.”
His tears started afresh. “Certifiable,” he choked out.
“Me?” she muttered, affronted.
He shook his head. “Me.” Then he wiped the newest stream from his eyes with the sleeve of his charcoal shirt. “Where?”
“Where’s the body?” he stage-whispered back.
Thirty minutes later, Max had gotten them halfway down the Peninsula. It was sunny, on the cool side, and just shy of noon. The drive was forty-five minutes from Witt’s station, which was close to the San Francisco airport, to the heart of Silicon Valley ... and the body stuffed in a dumpster behind Billy Joe’s Western Round Up, a local bar and country dancehall.
With the top up, Witt dwarfed her little red Miata. His near buzz-cut brushed the roof, and his knees scrunched up against the dash. Well ... she’d always said the car discouraged passengers.
“Santa Clara’s way out of my jurisdiction, Max.”
“But I need you, Witt.”
“You do?” He turned slightly, slid his arm along the back of her seat. She wore her dark hair short, but his sleeve brushed the ends at her nape. Her skin prickled. The confines of the car were definitely too small for the two of them and his ego.
“Can’t tell you how glad I am to hear that, Max. I think I need you, too,” he whispered, far too close to her ear.
She felt it right down to her toes in her high-heeled shoes. “Get outta here, Long.” She jabbed him with her elbow.
He sighed, then sat back. Max could breathe again. Sort of.
“Suppose you want me to run interference for you.”
“The cops’ll probably arrest me if I go by myself.”
“Like I almost did when you got your nose into my case.”
“That was days ago.” And thank God they were past that kind of distrust.
“All right. Spit it out. Everything.” Witt applied the brake on the passenger side as she snapped into the fast lane between a Camry and a Honda. “Maybe I shoulda driven, Max.”
“Do you want to hear or do you want to pick on my driving?”
“I wanna live.” He settled his big hands on his thighs. Gosh, she was partial to big hands. “But go on. Female,” he prompted. “Let’s start there. Age?”
She pursed her lips. “You’re interrupting my flow here.”
“Habit. Sorry. Tell it your way.”
She told him everything, well, almost everything. She started with the bar and the dance. She skipped the men’s room--too much explicit sex with Witt sitting so close--and went straight to how she knew where the body was. “... and her killers tossed her in the dumpster next to the Round Up,” she finished.
Her speed dropped to sixty-five. She could feel him looking at her before he finally spoke. “You sure that’s the spot?” Was that skepticism in his voice?
“Yeah.” She knew Billy Joe’s Western Round Up well. It had, until last week, been a favorite hang out of hers. But murder had squelched her appetite for the whole party scene.
“So, in your ... dream, you’re a wino witnessing a couple of guys wearing Frankenstein and Dracula masks dumping a body.” He was quiet a moment. “Guys that you, as the drunk, of course, can’t even identify.”
“I bet we’ll find out he knows a lot more if the detectives can question him. Like maybe a license plate number.”
He raised one blond brow. “If he knows it, don’t you as well?”
“Ummm, no.” Some things weren’t always clear in her visions.
The little punctuating silences he took were beginning to wear on her. She had no idea what they meant. Finally he said, “That’s why you need me. To point the cops in this wino’s direction.”
She glanced over to see him scrub one of those big hands down his face. “I figured they’d be more inclined to look for him if you told them about him,” she said.
“You figured I’d keep your pretty little ass out of jail.”
“That’s an incredibly sexist comment.” Sometimes she wasn’t quite sure how to take his backhanded compliments.
His laugh grated along her nerves. But he said nothing.
She pulled off the freeway, merged into street traffic, and headed for the alley alongside the Round Up. “Thanks, Witt,” she blurted into the relative silence of the Miata, “for not saying I’m crazy.”
“After knowing you two weeks, Max, I’m the one who’s completely lost it.”
She chanced a glance at him. “So you do think I’m crazy?”
“Nope.” He stared straight ahead.
“Do you think I’m lying?”
If her hands hadn’t been on the wheel, she would have thrown them in the air. “Then what?”
“Just wondering why there’s crime scene tape around that alley by the Round Up.”
Her heart skipped a beat, and her foot slammed on the brakes.
A crowd hovered like flies twenty feet back from the mouth of the alley. Yellow tape fluttered in the breeze. An ambulance, the words MORGUE stenciled in red letters across its rear doors, was parked at an angle across the access. A black-and-white sat nose-to-nose with it. Two more were parked across the street.
Witt hunched forward in his seat, looking out the windshield. “Exactly how many of these dreams have you had, Max?”
She rolled her lips between her teeth, then blew out a breath. “There was Wendy Gregory,” the case Witt had solved last week, “and before that, a child murdered near San Antonio Park.”
He looked at her, something unreadable in his blue gaze. “Jesus, you were that lady?”
She listened for the denigrating tone, couldn’t find it, then resented the way he said “lady” on principal. “I’m surprised you didn’t find that out when you were investigating me.”
“Suppose I didn’t dig deep enough.” He yanked open the car door, climbed out, then peered in the opening. “I’ll handle this. You stay here.”
“Stay out of it, Max.”
“You need me--”
“If I ask the questions, they’ll think I was a cop driving by who’s a little curious. You ask, they’ll bring you in for knowing too much about the crime, not to mention that smart-ass mouth of yours. Cops really hate a smart mouth.” His gaze flicked to her lips. “Even if it’s as kissable as yours.” He looked down the sidewalk at the bustling crime scene. “Doubt they’ll be as gullible as I was.” He slammed the door.
He thought she had a kissable mouth. Wow.
* * * * *
Half an hour later, Witt grabbed her arm and propelled her back toward the Miata. “I told you to wait in the car.”
She jerked out of his grasp. “I hate being left out.”
He gave her a look, definitely skepticism this time. “Right. Guess that’s why you work as a temp, live in a studio apartment with a no-name cat, and wear black all the time.”
Whoa. All this from a man whose average sentence length was five words or less, generally without pronouns. “Black happens to be my favorite color.”
“Mine, too, when you’re wearing it with those heels of yours.”
“And the cat’s name is Buzzard. Not that it’s any of your business.” She ignored his remark since it was another of his sexual innuendoes designed to push her buttons.
She crossed her arms and glared. “What?”
“That you’re not content to let me do what you asked me to do.”
She sighed and looked over his shoulder at the crime scene. The number of uniformed cops had doubled. A police photographer and a tech had arrived fifteen minutes ago in a utility van. The camera had begun to flash almost immediately, covering the dumpster from every angle. The tech had armed herself with latex gloves, plastic and paper bags, test tubes, scrapers, fingerprint dust, notebooks ... an endless array of paraphernalia.
And Witt had been utterly at home talking with the two detectives.
Max felt excluded, and not just from the action. She reached into her purse for her keys, then went for overkill to hide her childish irritation. “Oh please, Detective Long, I’m so sorry. Tell me what you learned.”
The smile was slow to grow on his face, but quite devastating when complete. “Love it when you mock me. Gets me all hot.”
Her face flamed. That wasn’t quite the reaction she’d expected. Or wanted. “Be serious. What you learned was that the garbage men found her around five a.m. That she looked like she’d been there at least a day. No I.D.”
“Just what do you need me for, Max? Can’t be detecting.” Both brows went up. “Must be sex.”
She kept her mouth shut. At least on that subject. “Did you tell them about the wino?”
His mouth quirked. “You’ve got a one track mind, Max. Too bad it’s always on murder. And no, didn’t mention him.”
“Gotta pick up my car back at the station, handle a few things in my own jurisdiction, then I’ll be back to check on the situation.”
“I’ll come with you.“
He looked at her with a definite you-might-be-crazy-but-I-sure-as-hell-ain’t expression. “Don’t think so.”
She persevered. “Why not?”
“They flirt with pretty women. They talk to other cops. Don’t need any help.”
“We’re a sexist bunch.”
Wasn’t that an understatement. Max decided the better part of valor was to give in. “Fine. But you’ll remember to tell them about the wino, right?”
He gave her that smile again. Too damn cute for words. “Buy ‘em a drink at the local cop hangout, see if any new details have surfaced, and the rest I’ll play by ear.” Period. Close quote. End of subject. He looked at the keys in her hand. “You want me to drive?”
She hugged the ring to her chest. “No one drives my car but me, hotshot.”
Witt walked around to the passenger side. Max put her hand on the door. Her fingertips tingled. She closed her eyes and for just a moment, something sparkled brightly against her lids.
Tell him, Cameron’s ghostly voice whispered in her ear.
He looked at her over the roof of the car.
“Her name is ... was Tiffany.”