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James Grippando's
Under Cover of Darkness
A prominent lawyer's wife may not be a serial killer's victim but his accomplice.
First Chapter
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First Chapter

The rain was a sign of good luck and happiness.

Andrea Henning had heard that old wives' tale at least thirty times today. She wondered if Mr. Gallup had ever conducted a poll to find out if couples who married on sunny days actually had higher divorce rates than those who waded through puddles on their way to the altar. Not that it really mattered. Rain on this wedding had been a virtual certainty. It was, after all, late winter in Seattle.

Andie -- no one called her "Andrea " -- wasn't bothered by the weather or any of the things a bride typically worried about. Maybe it was her training as an FBI agent, or maybe it was her innate common sense. Whenever something couldn't be controlled, Andie just dealt with it, and it usually worked out. Her crash diet had been a disaster, but the dress still fit perfectly. The best man was an idiot, yet he'd somehow remembered the marriage license. And the old candlelit church had never looked better. Bouquets of white roses with lace and pink ribbons adorned each pew. A long white runner stretched down the center aisle from the vestibule to the altar. The crowd was spread evenly, left side and right, soothed by a gentle harp as the last of four bridesmaids walked down the aisle. Rain or not, it was the wedding her mother had always told her to dream of.

Andie moved into the open double doorway in the rear of the church. The wedding consultant helped with the satin train behind her.

In front, the silver-haired minister waited at the altar, flanked on his right by bridesmaids dressed in red velvet dresses. To his left stood three young groomsmen and Andie's handsome husband-to-be. Rick looked nervous, even from a distance. His steely blue eyes glistened. They were almost glazed -- probably from all the drinking his friends had inflicted on him last night. The rented tuxedo seemed a little tight for his chest and shoulders, but maybe he was just taking deep breaths. He would have been far more at ease in blue jeans. So would have Andie.

The sound of the harp faded away. The guests fell silent. All heads swiveled toward the back of the church.

Andie took her father's arm. Though a half foot shorter than her, he was a pillar of strength -- normally. At the moment she could feel his hands trembling.

"Ready?" he asked.

She didn't reply. The time had come.

The pipe organ blared. Andie cringed. She had explicitly instructed the organist not to play the traditional "Here Comes the Bride." Her meddlesome mother had struck again.

Together, Andie and her father started down the aisle.

A camera flashed in her face. Then another. It was like staring into a strobe light. At this rate, she'd not only be filing a married couple's tax return this year, but she'd also have to mark yes in that little box that asks "Are you blind?" Andie focused on the burning candles on the altar as she continued down the aisle.

Friends and relatives beamed as she passed. They made her feel beautiful, though all of her life she'd been told she was beautiful. She resembled neither of her adoptive parents, of course. She had the prominent cheekbones and raven black hair of the American Indian mother she never knew. The deep green eyes were presumably from an Anglo father. The result was striking, an exotic ancestral mix.

Halfway down the aisle, Andie slowed the pace. Her nervous father was walking way too fast. His hand was sweating in hers. She squeezed it, then released. Finally, they stopped before the minister, standing side by side. The loud organ ceased abruptly.

Butterflies fluttered in her stomach. The minister raised his hands, then lowered them, instructing the crowd to sit. A quiet shuffle filled the church as two hundred guests lowered themselves into oak pews. When all was quiet, the minister raised his voice and asked, "Who gives this bride?"

The question echoed against Gothic stone arches.

Her father swallowed hard. "Her mother and I do."

Andie could barely recognize the shaky voice. He lifted her veil and kissed her on the cheek. "I love you," she whispered.

He couldn't speak. He turned and walked to the front pew, taking the seat beside his wife.

Andie climbed the two marble steps. The groom reached for her hand. She turned away, however, and faced the guests. She drew a deep breath, then spoke with self-assurance. "I know this is unorthodox. But before we get started, I want to thank some people."

The guests seemed confused. Her parents looked at one another. Nobody moved.

Andie continued, "First, I want to thank my parents. Mom, Dad. I love you both very much. I want to thank Reverend Jenkins, who has known me since I was a gangly teenager and who has been looking forward to this day probably more than anyone. I also want to thank each and every one of you for coming today. It means so much to have your friendship, your support." Her voice trailed off. She averted her eyes, then drew a deep breath and looked squarely at the clock in the back of the church. "But most of all," she said, her voice shaking, "I want to thank Linda, my lovely sister and maid of honor." She glared to her right.

"For sleeping with the groom last night."

The crowd gasped. Andie whirled and hit the groom squarely in the chest with her bouquet. Anger and embarrassment rushed through her veins. She hiked her long white wedding dress and ran for the side exit.

"You son of a bitch!" her father cried, charging toward the groom. The best man jumped forward to restrain the old man but knocked him flat in an accident that looked like a sucker punch...
Copyright 2000 by James Grippando

Dark House
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Twilight Lane, from Avon Books, at The Online Mystery Network,
is produced and published by Newfront Productions, Inc.

Copyright ©1999 by Avon Books and Newfront Productions, Inc.
All rights reserved. Do not duplicate or redistribute in any form.